SOCHI, Russia – Carey Price, this is your moment. You best enjoy it.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about Team Canada’s goaltending job at the Olympics, it’s that it often becomes a moving target. Mike Babcock didn’t provide much insight into why he’s decided to start Price against Norway on Thursday and Roberto Luongo against Austria on Friday, so we’re left to read the tea leaves about what it means in the big picture.
The last two times Canada won gold at the Olympics it swapped No. 1 goalies mid-tournament – with Luongo edging out Martin Brodeur in Vancouver four years ago after Brodeur had bumped Curtis Joseph from the role in Salt Lake City in 2002.
What makes Babcock’s decision here particularly interesting is the fact that Canada’s goalies aren’t likely to be tested too much in round-robin play against Norway, Austria and a banged-up Finnish team. That means the coaching staff’s preconceived opinions of the men could play a large role in deciding who is between the pipes for the must-win games.
Price is attending his first Olympics and was thrilled to get the news he was starting the opener before Wednesday’s practice. He was excellent for the Montreal Canadiens just prior to the Olympic break and is relieved that the tournament has finally arrived.
“I’m just excited,” said Price. “Obviously, it’s been a lingering thought, but this whole season I’ve been preparing one game at a time. That doesn’t change once I get here.
“I’ve been preparing these last two days for this game tomorrow and I’ll just continue to do the same.”
Goaltending promises to be a hot storyline for Team Canada throughout this event. Heck, people were fretting about it more than a year ago. Luongo seems completely unfazed by all of the talk – he’s been part of a few goaltending debates in his time.
The 34-year-old also referenced the Vancouver experience, where he was thrust into the net after Brodeur played in Canada’s 5-2 loss to the Americans in the round robin. His advice for Price? Simply enjoy getting a chance to be on the “biggest stage in the world.”
“For me, I just want to be ready for whenever I’m called upon,” said Luongo. “As we saw last time, things change quickly. Whoever is playing doesn’t matter as long as all three guys are ready to play.”
The Canadian team has held three practices since arriving in Russia – more than previous Olympics – but the goaltenders haven’t played a big role in them with most of the focus being on systems work. On Wednesday, Price, Luongo and Mike Smith came on the ice early to get in some extra work.
Even though they’re all competing for the chance to play, the vibe among them seems to be positive. They’re even staying in rooms at the athletes’ village that share a common area.
“We all knew coming into this that anything could happen, anybody could be starting,” said Price. “We all were mentally prepared for that. Coming into practices we just continued to do the same things that we’ve been doing all year.”
Everyone involved with Team Canada seems anxious for the tournament to finally start.
“Let’s get playing,” said Babcock. “Let’s find out if we’re any good.”