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It's Luongo's Time To Shine

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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You are in a hot air balloon that suddenly begins plummeting toward earth.

Within an arm’s length is a lever. It comes with no instructions, no indicator of whether it will send your balloon up or down.

What do you do?

I’ll tell you what you do. You pull the damn lever.

Which brings us to Team Canada coach Mike Babcock who is, from where I am sitting, the smartest guy in a room full of them.

After Martin Brodeur was outplayed by Jonas Hiller of Switzerland and Team USA netminder Ryan Miller, Babcock installed Roberto Luongo as his goalie for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. contest against Germany.

Presuming he does not kack, Luongo will face the Russians on Wednesday.

Let me hear you say amen. This balloon had been in freefall.

Look, Martin Brodeur is a terrific goalie. But he is also 37 years old and the highest strata of competition has a way of illustrating a slight diminishment in skill otherwise obscured in the slog of an NHL season. Remember the 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament when Wayne Gretzky suddenly seemed to lose the monumental hand skills that made him hockey’s greatest player? 
The Great One had been exposed as the No Longer Greatest One. The truth, when it makes itself obvious, is jarring. It is also undeniable.

When you say that nothing matters except gold, you can’t wait for your goalie to get hot, least of all a 37-year-old goalie who, while still brilliant, seems to have lost a bit. We are talking about the law of the jungle now, a law in evidence at the 2000 Games when Curtis Joseph stumbled in one game against Sweden and then watched Brodeur drive the team to a gold medal.

There will be much clucking about the insult to Brodeur, a three-time Cup winner who should walk into the Hall of Fame without the formality of a vote. He wasn’t that bad against the Americans aside from an ill-conceived attempt to bat a puck out of the air that resulted in a U.S. goal. The greatest are allowed a bad game, right?

Sure they are. Just not at the Olympics.

Babcock had no other move. Brodeur hadn’t been bad, he just hadn’t been good and with the Russians lurking around the corner, ditching Brodeur was the only lever in the balloon.

Who knows if Roberto Luongo will fare any better, but there is a quality about Luongo that has slipped in Brodeur.  Luongo can make an opponent feel like he will never score. The Vancouver goalie seems to fill the entire net and his presence is inspiring. He can and often is bulletproof.

Goalies fail before they succeed. Luongo does not have a big-game resume. That could all change in a week. It is Roberto Luongo’s time.
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