Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Curtis Joseph Finally Grabs the Gold

Early morning December 31st, Curtis Joseph, 40, accomplished something he had failed at twice earlier in his long and generally successful career. He won a gold medal as Canada's number 1 goaltender, albeit in the lesser known Spengler Cup.

His first opportunity came waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1996, as Canada assembled what was the twilight period of Edmonton Oiler greats for the very first World Cup of Hockey. That year Curtis Joseph was the number 1, with backups Bill Ranford and Martin Brodeur(!). He was considered a good goalie I think, but he hadn't yet reached the height of his own legend, that would come a few years later, closer to when he left Edmonton and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs. There is nothing really to say about that edition of Team Canada except to say that they lost in a spectacular fashion when it mattered most. Certainly that team's 3rd period collapse to Team USA, (with both teams tied for one win apiece in the best of 3 series) is comparable in terms of level of disaster to Canada's World Jr. 3rd period collapse to Team USA in 2004, or the semi-final loss to the Czech Republic in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Many questions were asked about the age of the team leaders such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (and in fact Messier was left out of the 1998 Nagano team, but would go on to play hockey for another 300 years or so). The real story of the tournament was Brett Hull's performance, and bitter Canadians (myself) still like to point out that for all intents and purposes he is Canadian, certainly in terms of who he owes his career to. He only played for Team USA because he was rejected by Team Canada due to lack of conditioning on one occasion early on in his career, but Team USA's shallow talent pool was ready to accept him with open arms. From then on he was loyal to Team USA. But I digress.

In 1998 Patrick Roy made a rare appearance for Team Canada so Joseph never got the opportunity. But it would come to him again in 2002.

It seems insane to think that only 6 years ago Curtis Joseph was considered a better goalie than Martin Brodeur, as Brodeur has been so consistently good for so long, but that's the way it was. However, Joseph simply did not play well in his first start; after storming out to a 1-0 lead, Mats Sundin put one past Joseph (admittedly on a breakaway), then was unable to make a key save later on in the period. The third goal against, halfway through the second, Joseph let in a suspect shot from the point. Another breakaway in the 3rd led to another goal against.

It wasn't so much that Joseph was at particular fault - it was more that he simply wasn't able to bail his teammates out of bad situations. He was replaced by Martin Broduer in the second game against Germany and never played another minute.

That was not the case against Salavat Yulaev Ufa on Monday, where Joseph made many key stops, including a shorthanded breakaway and a dangerous shot from the slot by Oleg Tverdovsky in the third.It took a long time, but he finally won one for Canada.

No doubt Joseph used this tournament to showcase his ability to perform at a high level, even at his advanced age. But regardless of his reasons, Joseph showed the world, and his home country, that he's still got something left in the tank. Now are there any takers?

1 comment:

Steal Thunder said...

It was widely known before the Spengler started that the main reason that Joseph was playing was to get a chance to play for an NHL club again this season. He stated it himself a number of times...

And I think Joseph's stature was at its highest in his last year in St Louis when he carried an average team way farther in the playoffs than they should have gone, while facing an average of more than 40 shots a game (if memory serves me correctly). The guy was a beast that off-season, which was the main reason that Edmonton picked him up...