Hockey

Mike Brophy - Sunday Feb. 23, 2014 10:37 ET

Carey Price most valuable of Olympic goalies

Montreal Canadiens netminder closes Olympic tournament with 2 straight shutouts

Mike Smith, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo in men's hockey

Prior to the Olympics, all the talk was about how Canada's goaltending might be weak. Carey Price, middle, proved the critics wrong. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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Goaltending will be Canada’s downfall. Canada doesn’t even have an obvious candidate to be the starter? Canada can score goals, but how will it keep pucks out of the net?

Sound familiar?

Those were the most predominant storylines leading up to the Winter Olympics when conversation turned to men’s hockey. Sure Canada was a favourite to repeat as gold medal winners, but the concern about the team’s goaltending was staggering.

And rightly so.

There is not a dominant Canadian-born goaltender in the NHL these days. Right up to the start of the Olympic Games and even a few games in, nobody was really sure who should be the starter.

Roberto Luongo was a logical choice from the standpoint that he was in goal when Canada won the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. His NHL numbers were decent, but not outstanding.

Same with Carey Price who won three straight leading up to the Olympics.

Mike Smith was a logical selection to be the third goal, but there was never any thought about playing him other than in an emergency situation.

And yet when all was said and done, goaltending – coupled with marvelous team defence – won it for Canada. Three goals against and three shutouts in six games. 

Price was right 

Price wound up being the No. 1 goalie and was up to the task. He was a steadying influence when the team’s offence stalled and his casual approach to the game brought calmness over the team. His rebound control also kept the opposition’s scoring chances to a minimum.

The goalie from Anahim Lake, B.C., played five games and finished with a 0.59 goals-against average and .972 save percentage with two shutouts.

Luongo got one start in Sochi and made the most of it, shutting out Austria 6-0 in Game 2 of the preliminary round.

Price said it was amazing how a group of NHL rivals bonded so quickly and it made his job of keeping pucks out of the net easier.

“Playing behind that group of guys was a lot of fun,” Price declared. “The work ethic that those guys brought to the ice every day really made my job a lot easier.”

'Will to win' 

While the majority of players on Team Canada were chosen because of their ability to score goals, preventing them turned out to be Canada’s keys to victory.

“I think everyone knows the talent and ability this team has and huge credit goes to our commitment to playing a team game and our will to win,” said Team Canada alternate captain Jonathan Toews.

“People were down when we didn’t score goals early in the tournament. It’s easy for a group like that to press and try to create offence and get away from our game plan, but we stuck with it every single night and here we are on top of the podium. It feels pretty good.”

History of goalie controversies

The uncertainty regarding Canada’s goaltending is hardly a new story.

Way back in 1972 at the Summit Series, there were many who thought Canada was nuts starting Ken Dryden in Game 8, the deciding game of the event. Neither Dryden nor Tony Esposito had done anything in the previous seven games to suggest one or the other was the obvious candidate to start in the all-important deciding match.

Dryden got the nod and won the game.

In 2002 in Salt Lake City, Team Canada coach Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs opened the tournament with his NHL goalie, Curtis Joseph, in net, but following a loss to Sweden he switched to Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils and won gold.

At the last Olympics Brodeur was penned in as the starter, but lost the job to Luongo. Canada’s goaltending in Vancouver wasn’t great, but it was good enough to win gold.

In Sochi, Price helped Canada win gold with back-to-back shutouts in the semifinal and final. The way his teammates played, it is conceivable Luongo or Smith could have played and produced the same result.

The point is, goaltending was supposed to be this team’s Achilles’ heel. It most certainly was not.

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