I knew the USA-Canada hockey game on Sunday night would be big. I just didn't know how big a U.S victory would be.
For obvious reasons, this was Canada's game to win. And after watching both teams play their first few games, I figured the Canadians, with the clear advantage in star power, wouldn't have trouble disposing of a much younger, inexperienced American team by 2-3 goals.
But in my mind there was only one handicap Canada could have given Team USA: Marty Brodeur. They played him in goal, and it cost them big-time.
Don't get me wrong—there's no doubt that Brodeur is one of the best goaltenders to have ever played the game. Here's a brief glimpse of his killer resume:
- The NHL's all-time leader in regular season wins, shutouts, and games played
- More than 30 franchise records, including most all-time regular season and playoff wins, shutouts, games, and lowest goals-against average
- Three Stanley Cup championships
- Four-time Vezina Trophy winner, four-time Jennings Trophy winner, 10-time NHL All Star, and a Calder Memorial Trophy winner
- One of only two NHL goaltenders to have scored goals in both the regular season and the playoffs; the only NHL goalie to score a game-winning goal.
But when I've watched Brodeur play periodically in the past few years, he's given up questionable goals, mostly as a result of his unconventional style of play. During this relatively new generation of super-athletic, butterfly-sliding goalies, Brodeur has become outdated. But don't take that as an insult, Marty—you've been incredibly successful as New Jersey's starting netminder for the past 19 seasons.
Canada started Roberto Luongo in net for their opening Olympic game against Norway. Apparently coach Mike Babcock planned on going with the more-experienced Brodeur as his No. 1 for the tournament, but wanted to get Luongo's skates wet in case he needed to call on him later. But instead of anticipating sub-par play from his starting goalie, Babcock should have stuck with Luongo (an All Star in his own right, playing on his home ice), similar to how the Team USA coach Ron Wilson preselected Ryan Miller to play the entire way. Babcock handed the reins over to Brodeur against Switzerland in the second game.
Had Luongo played against Team USA on Sunday night, I'm not so sure so many Americans would have been celebrating. I say this chiefly because the 6'3" butterflyer would have stopped the goals that Brodeur let in. And this goes back to what I was saying before: Brodeur may have been a better goalie five years ago, but Luongo is now.
Brodeur's biggest issue was the same one I've seen in the past few seasons: save selection. Consider the evidence:
- Even though the first goal was deflected in by his own teammate, a standard butterfly would have prevented the goal, instead of Brodeur going going paddle-down with his stick.
- On the second goal, the butterfly would have been more effective than hesitantly stacking the pads on a low shot through traffic.
- On the third goal, Brodeur's lack of stick pressure allowed the puck to seep through the five-hole with his stick between his legs in a rare sideways position only seen from Squirt- and Mite-level goalies.
- On the fourth goal (which proved to be the game-winner), Brodeur gambled and dove with a poke check, but didn't connect. Way out of position, he frantically tried to recover, but not before Chris Drury capitalized on a mostly open net.
"We're in the winning business. And to win in any game you need big saves. You need momentum-changing saves, and we're looking at Lou to do that for us. He's a great big butterfly goaltender. If you look at the way pucks went in our net last night with traffic, which is the way the game is now [emphasis added], sometimes just being down in that big butterfly, things hit you and just bump into you. We believe Lou gives us a real good opportunity to win, and so that's why we're going with him."I don't blame Canada so much for their loss as I do Babcock. His realization about playing the right goalie came a few games too late.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice was Ryan Miller, winning goaltender and instant American hero. Even with Brodeur's unsatisfactory performance, the Americans would have lost without Miller, who played the game of his life in stopping 42 of 45 shots and holding the Canadians off until the very end.
But when asked about winning the goaltending battle, he couldn't shake the the impression still held by so many—an impression that may begin to fade in the near future:
"I'm just trying to build my resume. Marty's the best."