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Stanley Cup 2013: Corey Crawford making a case for place on Team Canada

Corey Crawford wasn't on Team Canada's radar a year ago, but has thrust himself into the spotlight as others have dwindled. (Getty Images)

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Corey Crawford wasn't on Team Canada's radar a year ago, but has thrust himself into the spotlight as others have dwindled. (Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Corey Crawford has never worn the maple leaf on his chest. Never even come close. He’s never been to any kind of selection camp, never even played for a provincial under-17 team, has never had a sniff of any kind when it comes to representing his country.

“Nothing man,” was all Crawford could say when asked about his experience at the elite international level. “There hasn’t been much.”

That’s all about to change, you’d have to think. Hockey Canada will be holding its first evaluation camp for Canada’s Olympic team for Sochi in late August – assuming the NHL finally agrees to participate – and Crawford’s body of work this season and in the playoffs has undoubtedly earned him an invite.

But even if Crawford becomes the first Canadian goalie to lead his team to the Stanley Cup in four years and posts a .940 save percentage doing it, that’s all he’s earned. He has earned the right to be in the mix and be a part of Canada’s Most Popular Pub Game™, trying to figure out who will be on the Olympic team. Crawford has undoubtedly played his way into the conversation and while it might be difficult to fathom a Canadian Olympic team with Corey Crawford as its starting goaltender, it’s not as though anyone has distinguished himself as the frontrunner for that position these days.

No Canadian-born No. 1 goalie who played 10 or more games had a better save percentage than Crawford did and no goalie is even close to his playoff save percentage of .940. For Crawford, there is no problem taking his time to win over the people at Hockey Canada. It has been a long road to the NHL and it’s not as though people warm to him immediately – as early as the first round fans in Chicago were calling for Ray Emery to get a chance.

“I’m worried about winning a Stanley Cup right now,” Crawford said. “Obviously, that would be a huge honor, but right now there are other things to take care of.”

There was a time when Canada’s international teams were defined by their superior goaltending and lack of offensive creativity, stealing more than their fair share of international events on the strength of the play of their goaltenders. That dichotomy has been turned on its head in recent years. Canada has done a spectacular job of producing players of prodigious offensive skill – just go to a minor hockey game and you’ll see – while goaltending has become a black hole. With no Canadian finalists for the Vezina this season, no Canadian has won the trophy in the past five years and Martin Brodeur is the only one to have won it in the past decade. Canada’s goaltending has been a huge factor in its demise at the World Junior Championship in recent years.

And if not Crawford, then whom? Brodeur will be a couple of months away from turning 42 when the next Olympics start. Marc-Andre Fleury will still have the stigma of failing spectacularly in big games. Roberto Luongo, who knows where his game will be? Carey Price has been wildly inconsistent. Cam Ward will be battling away in Carolina and Mike Smith will likely be providing yeomen’s work for the Phoenix/Seattle/Quebec City Coyotes. It’s not a list that has any shining jewels on it, does it?

If you’re looking at recent work – and that has to count for something – Crawford’s resume is as impressive as anyone’s. And if he can keep up his level of play through the first half of the 2013-14 season, there’s almost no way Steve Yzerman will be able to keep Crawford from taking one of the three spots, possibly No. 1. But if he falters, there’s a good chance he’ll be taking a vacation next February instead of going to Sochi.

That’s partly because Crawford isn’t a Hockey Canada guy. It’s not as though those who are running the Olympic team can fall back on anything other than Crawford’s NHL body of work. If a guy such as Luongo starts slowly, at least the people at Hockey Canada know he has won an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup of Hockey. And Crawford, for as much as he has done in the past season, is still fighting for respect in the hockey community as a whole. He has never been in the conversation that includes the best goalies in the game.

“I don’t know, you tell me,” when asked why he has gone under the radar for most of his career.

Crawford, at least, has the backing of the members of his team. They watched him carry the Blackhawks to the playoffs two years ago and after a bad season in 2011-12, rode his goaltending to a season for the ages. He has gone from a technical robot to a goalie who relies more on instinct and athleticism. There are those who think Crawford would suffer if the NHL ever got serious about reducing goaltending equipment, others who believe he has evolved into a bona fide elite goalie at the NHL level.

“Corey has done everything we’ve asked of him this year,” said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. “Every goalie lets in the odd soft goal and Corey has let in one or two soft goals throughout the year, but he has played great all year from start to finish. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

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NOTES

• Nathan Horton of the Bruins practiced on Friday and while he appears to have a separated shoulder, could be in the lineup for Game 2. “He’s day-to-day. That’s why he practiced today,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “If he feels good (Saturday) he’s in the lineup. It’s as simple as that.”

• Game 2 hero Andrew Shaw swears he was not channeling his inner Steve Carell from Anchorman (“I love lamp”) when he said “I love shinpads!” after scoring the overtime winner in Game 1. “I was just expressing my feelings for my shinpads,” Shaw said.

• With the retirement of Jacques Lemaire, it’s believed Bruins coach Claude Julien will join Mike Babcock, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock on the coaching staff of Canada’s Olympic team.

• Neither Sidney Crosby nor John Tavares is expected to be in Chicago for the announcement of the Hart Trophy winner Saturday, leading some to believe Alex Ovechkin will be named the winner.

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