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Northwest: Luongo the new vanguard in Canada goal?

by Roger Phillips
Amid the drama of the United States' stunning defeat of Canada on Sunday, the Martin Brodeur era in the Canadian nets may have come to an end.
And the Roberto Luongo era may have begun.
The Canucks star took over after Brodeur's defeat and promptly won back-to-back routs of Germany and Russia on Tuesday and Wednesday. Considering Brodeur is 37 years old, it may have marked the end of his international hockey career. Luongo is not a kid, but then again, he's seven years younger than Brodeur.
At the Olympic break, the two had similar stats. Among goalies from Canada, Brodeur led with a 2.32 goals-against average, with Luongo second at 2.35. Luongo's .919 save percentage was just ahead of Brodeur's .915.
Looking at the current list of goalies from Canada, only Pittsburgh's 25-year-old Stanley Cup winner, Marc-Andre Fleury, can be ranked among the NHL's elite at this point. The other top goalies in the NHL right now are from the United States (Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson), Kazakhstan (Evgeni Nabokov), Sweden (Henrik Lundqvist), Finland (Miikka Kiprusoff), Russia (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Switzerland (Jonas Hiller).
So with Brodeur nearing the end of the road, it's there for the taking for Luongo. But he has a long way to go to match the exploits of Brodeur, who won the Vezina Trophy four times from 2002-03 through 2007-08.
Luongo hasn't won a Vezina yet, and amazingly, aside from Brodeur, neither has any other Canadian (besides Montreal's Jose Theodore in 2001-02) since Ed Belfour in 1992-93.
Almost all the Vezinas in the last two decades have been won by non-Canadians -- Tim Thomas (U.S.), Kiprusoff, Dominik Hasek (Czech Republic), Olaf Kolzig (Germany) and Jim Carey (U.S.)
Fittingly, the transition from Brodeur to Luongo has taken place on Luongo's home ice. As we await the Olympic outcome for Canada, Canucks fans can hope Luongo is ready to take another big step in his career in April (and May and June) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Warming up -- When the Olympic break ends next week, the Flames have much to atone for. They've been one of the NHL's most disappointing teams this season and will begin the final quarter of the season clinging to the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Like other NHL teams, the Flames were permitted Wednesday to begin practicing as they prepare to resume play against Minnesota on March 3. Flames coach Brent Sutter told reporters he would ease his team into its workouts.
"We've got to be careful here these first few days," Sutter told the Canadian Press. "We're going to have an opportunity as we get along here to really start getting into our systems and stuff. I think these first few days, it's just getting their legs back under them and getting their hands going and work on some skills."
Sutter said he was pleased his players had maintained their conditioning during their 10-day vacation.
"We had the type of practice we wanted to have … just to get our flow back, get our legs back under us and just get handling the puck," he said. "I thought the guys all looked really good. They're professionals. They understood our situation leaving and where we're at and what we need to do when we get back here."
With Miikka Kiprusoff still in Vancouver with the Finnish Olympic team, the Flames needed to find a goalie to join backup Curtis McElhinney at Wednesday's practice. University of Calgary goaltender Jeff Weber got the chance of a lifetime, thanks to goalie coach Jamie McLennan.
"I've developed a good relationship with these guys over the past couple of years, working for them and playing with the Dinos, so we've stayed close," Weber told the Canadian Press.
"I was ecstatic when Jamie thought of me first. I'd love to go play pro when my career is done here at U of C and if the opportunity arises, that'd be great. If not, this is a great way to go out of a hockey career, saying that I was playing in the NHL."
That other Koivu -- Saku Koivu long has been one of the mainstays of Finnish hockey. This season, younger brother Mikko is making a splash.
Mikko, the Wild captain, had a 3-assist game against Belarus during pool play. In four games, he has 4 assists and a plus-2 rating. Four years ago in Turin, he didn't have a point in eight games.
"Four years ago in Torino was a great experience for Mikko and me," Saku told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "But it's real nice now to see this different experience for him and playing the bigger role in probably, most likely, my last Olympics."
At 26, Mikko is nine years younger than Saku. Mikko said he is savoring the opportunity to play with his brother, knowing he may not get the chance again.
"I thought about this a lot before I got here, and I'm really trying to enjoy that and have some fun with him while we're here," he told the Star Tribune. "All these older guys, but especially Saku, they've been teaching us a lot during the years, even if they don't know about it. So I want to enjoy our time together here because who knows if we have a chance to do it again."
With Saku and Finnish teammate Teemu Selanne nearing the ends of their careers, Mikko appears ready to take over as the top star of Finnish hockey.
"Not only do people think he's our top young player, but people think Mikko Koivu is the No. 1 player in Finland," Timo Kunnari, a producer for the largest commercial TV station in Finland, told the Star Tribune. "Everywhere Mikko goes, people know him, people like him, people follow him. He's like a rock star. People in Finland believe he'll be the leader for our hockey for the next 10 years. I think he can do it if he stays healthy."
Looking ahead -- There's nothing the Oilers can do about the first 61 games of the season, 36 of which were losses. But coach Pat Quinn is hoping the players will make something positive of the final 21 games of the season, even though playoff hopes disintegrated long ago.
"I don't know about clearing their heads," Quinn the Edmonton Journal. "They can't take this as nine days of sitting on their rear ends. Part of becoming a good athlete and a good team is that mindset of excellence.
"We're in a unique situation here. There isn't a lot to think about in a positive frame -- except for self-improvement and being a professional. We still have a chance to become better players and we should be striving for that ... even though the situation is pretty bleak."
Of course, for some it may not be bleak for long. With the trade deadline less than a week away and the Olympic roster freeze soon to be lifted, some players probably will be moving on. Owner Daryl Katz has as much as promised there will be changes.
"You can't think about it. You just have to focus on playing the games," forward Mike Comrie, one of those who could be moving on, told the Journal when asked about the possibility of a trade.
Stastny back in Olympics -- Well, sort of. This time, it's a different Stastny playing for a different country.
Thirty years ago, Peter Stastny played for Czechoslovakia in the Winter Games in Lake Placid, a footnote in an Olympics everyone remembers for the Miracle on Ice.
This year, Paul Stastny, Peter's son, is playing for the U.S. team. In four games centering the top line, he has 1 assist and a plus-2 rating, and is averaging 16:45 of ice time per game.
"It's an exciting time for me," Stastny, 24, told the Denver Post.
Peter told the Post, "I'm very proud of him and all he's accomplished. It's everything I could have dreamed of as a father."
The season has been a mixed bag for Paul. On one hand, the Avalanche has surprised by competing for the Northwest Division title. On the other hand, though he has 54 points in 61 games, he only has 12 goals.
"Paul has played hard for us and sometimes he does things for us that don't always show up in stats," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco told the newspaper. "I think the Olympics will be good for him and a great experience. It's a big honor."

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