Eastern Conference Well Represented at Goaltending Position
The 2010 Olympic Games is a showcase of some of the best goaltending the National Hockey League has to offer. The Eastern Conference is well represented in that respect.
Eastern Conference goaltenders represent one-third of the goalies at the Olympic Games. Eleven Eastern Conference goalies are scattered among seven Olympic rosters and four are expected to start.
Key players include the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur (Canada), the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden) and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Antero Niittymaki (Finland). Brodeur and Lundqvist were the winning goalies in the 2002 and 2006 Gold Medal games, respectively. Niittymaki was the tournament MVP at the 2006 Games at Torino, despite being on the losing end of Sweden’s 3-2 Gold Medal victory.
Canada’s Martin Brodeur is the most decorated goalie in the bunch. Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups with the Devils and has a gold medal and World Cup of Hockey championship to his credit. The NHL veteran, selected 40th overall in the 1990 Entry Draft, has been the recipient of the Vezina Trophy four times. The prize is given to the league’s top goalie.
The Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas was last season’s Vezina Trophy winner and the Calgary Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff (Finland) won it during the 2005-2006 season.
Despite Thomas’ impressive 2008-2009 campaign for the Bruins, the Buffalo Sabre’s Ryan Miller has gotten the nod for Team USA. Thomas has posted a 2.52 goals-against average in 35 games for the Bruins this season, compared to his 2.10 GAA in 54 games last season. Miller is second in the league with a 2.16 GAA and .930 save percentage and fifth in shutouts (5).
The goaltending situation is a lot more complicated for Canada. Brodeur, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury all have significant experience at the international level. NHL.com’s John Dellapina reported that Canadian coach Mike Babcock has decided, but has not made public, which goalie will start in upcoming games. Babcock believes that Brodeur gives Canada its best shot at gold.
After last night’s thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over the Swiss, Team Canada trails undefeated Team USA by one-point in the Group A standings. The teams will play on Sunday.
Other notable Eastern Conference goalies representing their respective countries are Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) and Florida’s Tomas Vokoun (Czech Republic). Halak was the winning goalie in Slovakia’s surprise shootout victory over Russia last night. Vokoun backstopped the Czech Republic to a 3-1 win over Halak’s team on Wednesday.
Though Sweden is not a favorite to win the gold medal, you cannot count this team out, especially with Henrik Lundqvist in net. He has proven to be solid when games count. Lundqvist was pivotal for the Swedes when they won gold at Torino in 2006. At the time, he was only a freshman with the Rangers.
With only one game remaining in round-robin play, most teams have the potential for at least a bronze medal. A hot goalie may be the difference between bronze and gold.