In the lead-up to the naming of the Olympic teams, there was much hand-wringing in Canada over the makeup of the roster, particularly who would tend crease in Sochi. Everyone had an opinion and the variance was diverse.
Netminding is indisputably the most important position in the game and the gold medal might hinge on the country that gets one extra save from its stopper. Or it might not. Is there a chance we’ve spent too much time and energy on who’s between the pipes in this event?
Here’s the evidence/golden goalie performances from the four Olympiads in which NHLers have participated:
1998, Nagano: If a myth exists you need all-time excellence in net to achieve ultimate glory, blame Dominik Hasek. He is the first, second and third reasons why the Czechs triumphed, allowing just five goals in six games, while posting a .963 save percentage. The highlights were a 2-1 shootout victory over the heavily-favored Canadians in a semifinal in which he stopped Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Niuewendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan. He shut out Russia 1-0 in the gold medal game, making 20 saves and was named best goaltender in the tournament as well as its MVP. For Canada, Patrick Roy was strong, turning aside 93.5 percent of shots he faced.
2002, Salt Lake: Martin Brodeur took over for Curtis Joseph following Cujo’s mediocre performance in the tournament opener versus Sweden, a 5-2 loss. He did what Martin Brodeur has excelled at over the years – playing very well behind a strong team. In his five appearances, he had a decent .917 save percentage, good for sixth among stoppers. Top honors went to Mike Richter, who carried the Americans to silver on home soil, posting a .932 save percentage. In the event, the Americans used all three of their netminders (Mike Dunham and Tom Barrasso also saw action) before settling on Richter. On the flip side, Tommy Salo experienced the most notorious goalie moment in recent Olympics history when he surrendered a goal that deflected off his head to underdog Belarus. The Swedes, who had been a juggernaut to that point, never recovered.
2006, Turin: Antero Niittymaki nearly pulled a Hasek until the halo fell off towards the end of the gold-medal game. Sweden overcame a 2-0 deficit to stop the underdog Finns and their head-standing stopper. On the strength of his .951 save percentage, Niittymaki was named the event’s best in goal. Golden goalie Henrik Lundqvist was an adequate seventh in SP, posting a .907 mark. Canada will forever remember the 49-save shutout Switzerland’s Martin Gerber threw at them in the preliminary round that helped set up a showdown with Russia in the quarterfinal, a game they lost 2-0.
2010, Vancouver: Brodeur became Joseph and Roberto Luongo was Brodeur as Canada rode a total team effort to its second title in three Olympiads. Luongo came in following Brodeur’s shaky performance in a loss to Team USA. Luongo got the job done, making the saves when he had to and finishing fifth in SP at .927. The best goalie and MVP at the event was American Ryan Miller, who had a .946 SP, but who also allowed a seeing-eye Sidney Crosby shot to find the back of the net.
The conclusion? While it’s possible for a goalie to carry a nation to ultimate glory, or horrendously flop, it’s unlikely. The top teams are too well-balanced overall, and have deep enough creases, nobody has a decided edge, or deficit, with their masked men. This will be won or lost on the entire 200 by 100 international ice surface, not just the wee patch of blue paint.