For some reason, I like weirdos. As a result, I tend to have a lot of friends who are goalies. I say "are," because even if they haven't strapped on the pads in ten years or more, a goalie is always a goalie. Those of you who have friends who are goalies...or who are goalies yourselves...know exactly what I mean. A quick poll of some of my goalie friends last night delivered a unanimous decision on Martin Brodeur's play against the U.S. The verdict? What the hell was he THINKING?! Most of that opinion was born in the aftermath of the American's second goal, which was the direct result of Brodeur's deciding to play a spot of cricket on an incoming floater. Instead of gloving the puck like a normal goalie would, he instead batted it out to the point with his stick, directly onto the blade of Brian Rafalski. Rafalski, of course, smartly returned it to the back of the Canadian net at top speed. What the hell indeed.
To be fair, the question should properly be what the hell were Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock thinking for going with Brodeur in the first place? Yzerman earlier said he wanted to give Team Canada a younger, fresher approach than we'd seen in Turin. Youth was the ticket, he said. He backed it up by including youngsters like Crosby and Toews up front and 20-year-old Drew Doughty on the blueline. Veterans like Pronger and Neidermayer were supposed to be there to provide a steadying influence and some experienced leadership. That's all well and good in theory, but the veterans are looking more like old guys than venerable all-stars, especially in goal.
Brodeur has had a great career. He's got the Cups and the Vezinas and the stats. Ten years ago, Brodeur would have been a great choice to start for Team Canada. These days, though, we see a 37-year-old Brodeur who's playing way too many games for the Devils and who has developed a disturbing habit of fading down the stretch and into the playoffs. Brodeur has been insulated for all of his career by the tight New Jersey defence. At the Olympics, with a team that had exactly one practice together before starting the tournament, he doesn't have that smothering security blanket. That means there are going to be defensive miscues and big, honking breakdowns in front of him, and the goalie must be extra-sharp and extra-quick. I'm not sure Brodeur is capable of doing that anymore.
Look at the goalies who are really shining in this tournament. Ryan Miller is 29. So is Ilya Bryzgalov. Jaro Halak is 24. These are goalies who are in, or heading into, their primes. Brodeur is coming out of his, and last night it showed.
If Team Canada means to learn a lesson from staying too long with the tried and true, which in Torino turned out to be the tired and blue, it needs to start in goal. If it's supposed to be a young, hungry team, it needs a young, hungry goalie. Sure, it's risky to put all the country's hopes in Roberto Luongo, who's never won a Cup, or Marc-Andre Fleury who famously blew the World Junior gold medal game in 2004 by mishandling the puck. But, is it any more risky to try something new than it is to expect a 37-year-old Brodeur to rediscover the form of his youth?
The fact is, Brodeur won't be there in four years' time. Team Canada will have to learn to get along without him sooner or later. For the sake of this year's medal hopes, it's time to let the past go and ride a good goalie who's still in his prime. Brodeur has done his time for his country, but I think that time has passed.