Team Canada should net a proven winner in Fleury


It is a tough question. But with a little more than three months to go before the Winter Olympics, it’s one that needs answering in a hurry — who will Team Canada start in goal?


MONTREAL — It is a tough question.

But with a little more than three months to go before the Winter Olympics, it’s one that needs answering in a hurry — who will Team Canada start in goal?

A couple of months ago, you might have said it was easy. Martin Brodeur would be the starter, as always, with Roberto Luongo and Cam Ward to back him up.

Now, for a variety of reasons, all bets are off. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Canada was humiliated in men’s hockey in Turin. Handed its hat. Made to look like a pretender. Three games and no goals.

Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton . . . and no goals. If Canada is humiliated in similar fashion on home ice in Vancouver, it will be a national trauma.

Martin Brodeur was the goaltender in Turin, as he was for Team Canada’s triumph in Salt Lake in 2002. He was not the problem in 2006 but he wasn’t the solution either.

Brodeur’s best days are behind him. He’s 37-years-old and he hasn’t won anything in more than six years, since New Jersey’s last Stanley Cup in 2003. His numbers this year — a 2.58 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage — don’t say that he’s seizing the Team Canada job by the throat.

Playing behind the best defensive team in the modern history of the NHL, Brodeur will break just about every goaltending record there is. Not even close, but in terms of this conversation, history doesn’t matter.

Winning does.

Roberto Luongo is hurt. Nothing serious, mind you, a hairline rib fracture that will cost him a couple of games. But he wasn’t having a sensational season even before he went down.

Luongo is a young man with a lot of great games behind him who has never gotten to a Stanley Cup final and he was in the throes of an up-and-down season, even before his injury.

Before the season, I thought Cam Ward might steam up on the outside to seize the job. Ward does have a Stanley Cup on his resume, but his numbers this year are decidedly so-so — a 2.89 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

All of which leaves Steve Yzerman in search of a goaltender, especially because Steve Mason has probably played himself out of contention this season, the way Marty Turco did last year.

But when I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins thump the Montreal Canadiens the other night, it occurred to me that I wasn’t just watching Canada’s likely offensive leader in Sidney Crosby. I was also watching the young man who, at this stage of the NHL season, is making the strongest bid to start for Canada in Vancouver: Marc-Andre Fleury.

There is nothing that compares to the Olympic hockey tournament. Not even the Stanley Cup final.

When Team Canada plays it’s first game in Vancouver, there will be 400 media waiting in the mixed zone and more at the press conferences.

There will be nearly that many at every practice. If Yzerman has bacon and eggs for breakfast, some reporter will be there to file the story.

When it comes to choosing Canada’s goalie, I don’t want to hear about the guy who made 47 stops in a shutout win over Nashville in November. I want a guy who knows what the big stage is like. A goalie who has at least played in either the Olympics or the Stanley Cup final and who is playing very well right now. And that leaves us with a very short list.

No one has been thrown into the fire more often in recent seasons and excelled more than Fleury. The resume is up to date, the stops are there and he’s accustomed to playing with superstars. With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around and one Stanley Cup ring already on his finger, Fleury plays in the spotlight all the time.

Fleury has taken the Penguins to two Stanley Cup finals in a row. He came close to winning it the first time, won it the second. He has gotten better every year and this year, with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, he is the one serious contender who is playing well now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.

Marty Turco and Jose Theodore (yes) are other veterans who are having outstanding seasons but neither has played in a Stanley Cup final and both have had up-and-down careers. Chris Osgood has been there but he’s having an awful year.

Fleury turns 25 next month. He’s ready. And the way he’s playing right now, Yzerman has little choice but to put this country’s hopes in the glove hand of Marc-Andre Fleury.
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