Canada doesn’t have obvious candidates in goal for the 2014 Olympic men’s hockey tournament.
That’s unusual for a country accustomed to familiar faces in net when Canada’s men step on the international hockey stage.
Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were considered the world’s best goaltenders in their prime, with Curtis Joseph, Eddie Belfour and Marty Turco also regular wearers of the Maple Leaf.
But even the man who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 doesn’t assume he’ll inherit the starting job in Sochi, Russia, in February.
Roberto Luongo’s 34 saves, including four in overtime, lifted Canada to a 3-2 victory over the United States for the gold medal in Vancouver.
“It’s an open competition and whoever plays best deserves to be the starter,” Luongo said upon arrival in Calgary for orientation camp.
“You work hard and you want to be rewarded for your efforts. If I’m going to be there, I want to deserve it.”
Luongo, Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Carey Price and Mike Smith were the five goalies among the 47 players summoned to Calgary for informational meetings and player bonding, but no skating.
The cost of insuring what Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said was $1.5-billion in player contracts was deemed too high to put them on skates. The coaches intended to walk the players through systems Monday on a boarded-up ice surface at Canada Olympic Park.
Brodeur, 41, wasn’t invited to orientation camp, nor was Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, even though both goalies were on the Canadian team in 2010.
Devan Dubnyk was one of Canada’s goalies at the last four world championships, but the Edmonton Oiler was also left off the orientation camp roster.
Crawford won a Stanley Cup in June with Chicago and is one of five Blackhawks at orientation camp. But the 28-year-old from Montreal has yet to represent Canada internationally.
“I’ve worked hard the last couple years and (tried) to prove myself,” Crawford said.
Smith, of the Phoenix Coyotes, got his first real taste of international hockey at this year’s world championships in Stockholm, where the 31-year-old posted two wins and two shootout losses.
Price was outstanding in Canada’s net at the 2007 world junior hockey championship on route to gold, but he too hasn’t participated in a men’s world championship.
The 26-year-old’s NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens has been a roller coaster of brilliant runs and falling out of favour. His stats this past lockout-shortened season were unimpressive. Neither his save percentage nor his goals-against average ranked among the top goalies in the NHL.
“I’ve had the opportunity to wear this country’s logo before,” Price said. “When you step on that ice, it definitely gives you chills down your spine.”
Price married Angela Webber on Saturday before flying to Calgary.
“To be honest, I didn’t actually go to sleep,” Price said. “I got some on the flight. You only get married once in your life. It’s definitely time to take an opportunity to enjoy it.”
Holtby, who turns 24 next month, raised his stock during the 2012 post-season with the Washington Capitals.
He was rewarded with the Caps’ starting job this past season, but his international experience consists of an under-18 men’s world hockey championship in 2007.
“My mind-set is that I’m not going to put any extra, added pressure on myself,” Holtby said. “My goal is to win games for the Caps. If I’m winning games, that’s all I can really do.”
Luongo remained atop Canada’s goaltending depth chart a year after the 2010 Games when he took the Vancouver Canucks to within a game of winning the Stanley Cup.
He’d still be considered the front runner for Sochi if not for his declining fortunes in Vancouver over the last year. Luongo had his heart set on a trade this summer after Cory Schneider had supplanted him.
But Luongo’s contract — worth $64-million — was a drag on his trade prospects. The Canucks stunned Luongo by trading Schneider to New Jersey at the draft, thus bringing the 34-year-old from Montreal back as their No. 1.
It’s an awkward situation, although it’s not out of the question Luongo could make a fresh start in Vancouver under new head coach John Tortorella.
“What Lou’s got going for him is that he’s won in the past,” Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said.
“I’ve been with him twice, at the ‘04 world championships and in 2010 and he wins every time. To me, he’s got that confidence in himself. He’s been through a tumultuous time and I thought he handled it with extreme class and professionalism.”
The man ultimately responsible for assembling the 2014 men’s hockey team and defending the gold medal isn’t lying awake at night worrying about who his goaltenders will be in February.
Steve Yzerman believes the position will sort itself out based on the goalies’ performances between now and December.
“I think there are some new faces that are very good goaltenders,” Canada’s executive director said. “Roberto played on the last team. Corey Crawford is coming to camp. He just finished winning the Stanley Cup.
“Things will work itself out. I’m not going to worry about it here in August.”