Even though Roberto Luongo finished the Olympics four years ago, he won’t start Team Canada’s run at defending that gold medal.
Coach Mike Babcock chose to split the goaltending duties out of the gate in Sochi so it will be Carey Price facing Norway in Canada’s opener on Thursday while Luongo will play Friday against Austria.
Babcock delivered the news to the goaltenders on Wednesday, roughly 36 hours before puck drop of the Norway game. Babcock didn’t give a rationale for why he went with this order.
“I was going to play one of them in (each of) the first two games,” Babcock said. “If I had put Luongo in, you’d be asking me the same question.”
Recent performance certainly seemed to give Price the edge. In his past six NHL games for the Montreal Canadiens, Price is 4-1-1 with two shutouts, a 1.15 goals-against average and .967 save percentage.
Luongo is 1-5-0 with a 3.55 GAA and .880 save percentage in his past six for the Vancouver Canucks. He appeared to accept Babcock’s decision.
“We’re all here to play for Team Canada, man,” Luongo said. “It’s not about one player. We’re all pulling the same rope. It’s a team game right now. It’s not about Roberto Luongo or Carey Price or Mike Smith. It’s about being part of Team Canada. It doesn’t matter what role you are given, you have to embrace it and accept it.”
Price, who will be making his Olympic debut, said all three goalies were all mentally prepared for anyone to start the tournament. That Babcock called on him this time is a career highlight.
“I seem to have had a lot in my young life so far,” Price said. “It definitely ranks up there.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Price and Luongo would dress for both games, or if Smith would get a turn. Babcock also didn’t reveal if he has decided on a starter for Sunday’s game against Finland.
The decision will likely be made based on how well the goalies perform in their first games. Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur as the starter at the 2010 Olympics, so he understands nothing is written in ink.
“For me, I just want to be ready whenever my turn is called upon,” Luongo said. “Like we saw last time around, things change quickly and whoever’s playing doesn’t matter as long as all three guys, really, are ready to play.”
The U.S. finds itself in a similar situation after coach Dan Bylsma named Jonathan Quick the starter for Thursday’s game against Slovakia. It’s not clear if Ryan Miller, who opposed Luongo in the 2010 gold-medal game, will get a start against Russia or Slovenia, or whether Quick will run the table in group play.
“I’ve not made a plan, and nor if I did would I be sharing it with you — that’s not personal,” Bylsma said.
Team Canada seemingly had an easier decision because the most difficult game of the three comes after two against weaker competition. Babcock and his staff will be able to watch and judge against Norway and Austria, then figure things out from there.
Still, it’s a bit surprising that Luongo didn’t get call first based on being part of the turnaround in Vancouver. The 34-year-old said all the right things Wednesday.
“You learn how to handle things a certain way,” he said. “At the end of the day I’ve always said, it’s the Olympics, I want to enjoy being here, take it all in. Everybody’s going to have a different role on the team and if we’re not all accepting of that role, that’s going to difficult for us to win.”