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  • canada sked medal preview SLAM!  NAGANO

    Monday, February 16, 1998

    Peculiar Patrick still the king

    By JIM O'LEARY -- SLAM! Sports
     NAGANO -- To the European journalist, it all seemed so peculiar. The Team Canada goalie, this famous all-star, was forever fidgeting. He'd shrug and crane and, when play stopped, leave his goal crease to skate in tight, little circles. And, oddest of all, he was in constant conversation -- with himself.
     "Does your goalie always act this way?" he asked coach Mark Crawford.
     Crawford allowed himself the tiniest of smiles. The truth is that, no, Patrick Roy does not always act that way. He has his normal days, days when he resembles other NHL goalies.
     But this wasn't one of them. Roy, perhaps Crawford's most important player, was at his nutty best, which meant he was driving Team USA crazy.
     Although no studies exist to prove this point, 12 years of observation indicate a correlation between the degree of Roy's idiosyncracy and the level of his play.
     "Patrick has a lot of interesting, ah, mannerisms," Crawford responded. "He does some things to make himself comfortable. The important thing is that he's comfortable and goes about his business the way he has to."
     Leading into the Olympics, there was considerable conjecture about who would be Canada's No. 1 goalie. Curtis Joseph had the most international experience, Martin Brodeur was having the best NHL season and Roy, the veteran, had the most impressive professional resume.
     In the end, however, it came down to Roy having Crawford in his corner. They made a great pair in winning the 1996 Stanley Cup for Colorado. Crawford knows Roy, respects him and trusts him. He speaks diplomatically about agonizing over the goaltending decision, but it's unfathomable that Crawford seriously considered anyone but Roy.
     "There's tremendous depth in the goaltending talent in Canada," Crawford says. "We talked about the decion (who to make No. 1). In the end, you go with your feeling and I went with my feeling to play Patrick. I feel comfortable with him."
     Heading into the medal round, Roy has repaid Crawford's confidence with three outstanding games, all Team Canada victories. He has allowed just three goals in the tournament and was a primary reason Team Canada beat Team USA 4-1 early Monday morning. Maybe the best way to describe him right now is to say Roy is in Stanley Cup form.
     Roy had the type of stand-tall game that must have left the Americans feeling like someone parked the Zamboni at the top of the Canadian goal crease. He stopped 32 shots and probably assured a Canadian victory in the second period when he spread himself across the goal like a big, red tarp.
     For most of that period, the Americans used their size and strength effectively to work the puck low and pound at Canada's net. Canada's defence kept collapsing in on Roy but the goalie, spreading into his butterfly, looking calm, unrattled, made save after save. It was the same way he had looked in the first period when, confronted by a two-man Team USA advantage for 1:40, Roy matter-of-factly blocked every U.S. scoring attempt.
     "I don't want to take anything away from my teammates," said Roy. "The guys did a great job. But I was focussed very early in this game. It's important for me to come in and get focussed right away."
     Despite being recognized as the top, big-game goalie of his generation, Roy had never played for Canada at any level before he made his Olympic debut last week. The rejection that hurt most was being snubbed by Glen Sather in the 1996 World Cup. Roy had just won the Conn Smythe Trophy and led Colorado to the Stanley Cup, but Sather gave Curtis Joseph the No. 1 job and left Roy at home. Joseph is in Nagano as the No. 3 goalie, which means he has a permanent seat in the stands to admire Roy's work.
     "They selected Cujo in 1996 and he played well," Roy said. "I can't do anything about that. But now they selected me for the Olympics and that feels good. I was happy to be picked and thought that maybe I'd have a chance to play a game."
     Barring injury or calamity, Roy will start all Canada's games. Next up is Wednesday's quarter-final match against Kazakhstan. A win there would send Canada to the semis to face the winner of the Czech-USA quarter final, which means an American rematch is no worse than a 50-50 bet.
     "We've known all along that the road to the gold medal probably goes through Canada," said American coach Ron Wilson.
     And through Patrick Roy.
     "Our guys score on Patrick Roy in the NHL," Wilson said. "But Patrick is regarded as one of the best big-time goalies ever. Obviously he was the big difference today."
     Team Canada will have to count on Roy to continue to make the difference. Even in losing, Team USA exposed some weaknessess behind the Canadian blueline. Roy is going to get busier as the tournament gets more serious.
      "I would like to add a gold medal to my career," he says. "And this will be my only chance."
     All of which means you can expect Roy to be at his fidgeting, talkative best for as long as Canada remains in contention for the top prize.