Commentary

Will anyone supplant Brodeur, Luongo?

Updated: August 25, 2009, 10:21 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

CALGARY, Alberta -- I waited for the rest of my media colleagues to leave that night. I wanted to chat Olympics, if only briefly, with Martin Brodeur.

It was April 23. The New Jersey Devils netminder had just outdueled Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes in a 1-0 affair in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series, one of the most thrilling games I had ever covered. A combined 86 shots on net and just one goal?!

I remember asking Brodeur about the Olympic implications of it all, given the kind of goaltending he and Ward were putting up in the series. He was quite confident Ward would end up at the Canada's summer Olympic camp, and he was dead-on.

Funny thing is, nobody seems to remember how amazing Brodeur and Ward were in that series. In Ward's case, maybe it was because he was shelled by the eventual Cup champion Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. In Brodeur's case, well, there were those final 80 seconds of Game 7 against the Hurricanes when he let in the tying and winning goals in a shocking end to his season.

In fact, as the second round of the NHL playoffs wrapped up, and Brodeur and Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo were sent home packing, sports radio talk in Canada was consumed by one subject for the next week or so:

Who the heck would stop the puck in the Olympics?

If you just rolled your eyes (as I did at the time), understand that this country is all too consumed with the Olympic hockey tournament in Vancouver. We're surprised there wasn't a heated debate over the selection of the stick boy.

Right now, regardless of what anybody thinks, Brodeur and Luongo are still 1 and 1-A in the eyes of Team Canada's management. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury just won the Stanley Cup, Ward had a great season and Steve Mason was out of this world in winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, but they're still behind Brodeur and Luongo in the pecking order.

At least for now.

"It's a great situation for me, having these young guys pushing me," Brodeur said Tuesday after Day 2 of the Canadian Olympic camp. "I know I was the guy pushing certain goalies at one time and I got the best out of them. I'm looking to do the same thing.

"And eventually it will change. But I'm still here."

Brodeur, 37 and a three-time Stanley Cup champion, is poised to go to his fourth straight Olympics, having led Canada to gold in 2002. Not for a moment does he believe 80 seconds of hockey has somehow shaken his confidence. C'mon, folks!

"Not a fun way to lose and go home, but at the end of the day, I put myself in the position to be there," Brodeur said. "I played very well in that series. Personally, I'm fine with what happened. I wish I could get them back, but that's not the way it works. We'll move on."

Luongo, 30, has closed the gap considerably on Brodeur in recent years and no longer arrives at these types of camps feeling like the young kid on pins and needles. He backstopped Canada to a 2004 IIHF world championship title in Prague. He also filled in for an injured Brodeur in the semifinals of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and was huge in a win over the Czech Republic. He started two games at the 2006 Olympics, allowing only three goals.

"I do definitely feel more comfortable in these settings now," Luongo said. "Normally, I'd come in here and maybe be pretty nervous, but I'm pretty relaxed this time around. You still work as hard as you can on the ice, but you don't have that same nervousness that you had those first few years in this situation."

But allowing seven goals in his last game of the season -- a frightful night in Chicago in the second round of the playoffs -- wasn't soon forgotten. The Canucks goalie calls it the toughest night of his career.

"Definitely," Luongo said Tuesday (he broke down in tears that night in Chicago and abruptly ended his media scrum). "Maybe the first few months I thought about it every day, but now maybe once a week. I still can't find an answer for what happened that night, but I think a lot of circumstances came together and it just happened. You just have to put it behind you. I will definitely use it as motivation for this season."

This is a big season for Luongo. The Olympics are in his NHL city, so he'll be hearing about it every day. But he also is hoping to sign a contract extension sooner than later. He's heading into the final year of his deal and doesn't want to spend the entire season taking questions about his future.

"For me, it's not going to be a distraction," Luongo said. "We're working on it right now [his agent, Gilles Lupien, has been in talks with Canucks GM Mike Gillis]. Obviously, we'd like to get it done before training camp. But if training camp rolls around and there's no deal, we're not going to be talking about it during the season at all because I don't want to see it become a distraction."

For the record, both Brodeur and Luongo dismiss the notion they are the 1 and 1-A goalies for Canada right now.

"I wouldn't say it's a given that Marty and I will be there," Luongo said (with a straight face). "Obviously, we have a lot of hockey to play before the team is made up, and we have to play well to be there. Me and Marty have a good relationship. Whatever the roles are once the Games arrive, it'll be fine by me. At the end of the day, you're playing for your country and you want to do what's best for them, so you accept the role that they give you."

And that's the interesting dynamic at play here. There's a genuine respect among the five goalies here this week. Brodeur and Luongo are not acting as if they're above anyone. Fleury, Ward and Mason say they've been warmly welcomed into the fold.

It's a contrast to past Olympics.

In 1998, Brodeur famously found out on the flight from Vancouver to Nagano, Japan, that Hall of Famer Patrick Roy would play every single game and he wouldn't play one. That led to some tension between Brodeur and Roy for a while. Then, in 2002, Curtis Joseph was less than pleased when he was pulled after the opening game against Sweden, a bad loss, and Brodeur took over for the rest of the tournament.

Brodeur has made strides to try to avoid those kinds of situations ever since. He openly encouraged the idea of the young Luongo getting to start a game or two in the 2004 World Cup and 2006 Olympics, and that's exactly what happened.

"It's a healthy competition," Brodeur said. "We're not here to hate each other. If the best goalie is me, good. If it's not, well, I'll be there to support the other guy. That's the beauty of this. We're playing for Canada here. I'm not playing for me.

"There is no sense to feel any tension," he added. "Look at Luongo -- I get hurt [in 2004]. If he doesn't play unbelievable against the Czechs, we don't have a chance to win the gold in the World Cup. You have to have that feeling that everybody is part of it."

Mason, 21, is taking that message to heart. He candidly talks about wanting to push the older goalies and make this team.

"It's a great challenge," said the Columbus Blue Jackets netminder. "They're only taking three guys to the Olympics. Two guys won't make it, so it's going to be a tough battle. But I feel like I can make the team."

Cocky? Not really. In the same breath, he talked excitedly about meeting his hero Brodeur here this week and working up the nerve to get his autograph. Seriously.

"I've introduced myself already, but I'll wait until the end of camp to pop the autograph question," said Mason as his cheeks reddened.

Speaking of blushing, Fleury wanted no part of our line of questioning when we asked him why more people aren't talking up his chances to be the No.1 goalie, given his Stanley Cup performance.

"For sure, I'll do my best to make a good impression. So we'll see," the star Pens goalie said in French. "Just being part of the team would be fine. It would be an honor, and it would be something new. I have no control over anything else."

Fleury's Game 7 performance at Joe Louis Arena in the Cup finals makes him a serious threat to make this team, if not push Brodeur and Luongo. And that game did a lot for his confidence.

"Not bad," he said with a smile when asked about the boost he got from the Cup-clinching performance. "I've had tough moments in my career, but I never wanted to stop, never wanted to give up. I just wanted to go forward. I just kept working. So winning that night and achieving my dream, that was an unbelievable feeling."

An Olympic assignment would be a great add-on to that Cup experience. He doesn't care what role he would have on the team.

"I'd wash towels," Fleury said.

Team Canada's top goaltending job? The most sought-after in hockey? I'd say so.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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