December 22, 2009

Rask in Olympic discussion

Tuukka Rask (photo: Getty)

Tim Thomas may have won the Vezina Trophy last year, starring for Boston, but Beantown has another goaltending ace.

Although considered a back-up goalie earlier in the year, Tuukka Rask has emerged as Thomas’ equal on many a night.

Our man in Beantown, Craig Kaufman, files the following report of the surprise of the Bruins and his Olympic chances:


Rask allows that he had not really thought that much about the opportunity to play for Finland’s Olympic team, despite being on the list of names now on the radar.

“If it comes, it comes," said the 22-year-old who recently signed an extension to keep him a Bruin until 2011-12. “I will not be disappointed if I’m not there, but of course I will do the best I can to make the team.”

To land a spot on the squad, which will compete in Pool C against Sweden, Belarus and Germany, Rask will need to beat out a field that includes Pekka Rinne, Antero Nittymaki, Niklas Backstrom and Miikka Kiprusoff. Nittymaki started most of the country’s games in the 2006 Olympics, including Finland’s quarterfinal and semifinal victories, and a loss in the gold medal game to Henrik Lundqvist and Sweden.

“It’s fun to see guys from your home country doing well in the NHL,” said Rask. “It’s been the last few years now that Finnish goalies are really stepping up and it’s fun to follow. It’s fun to play against these guys too.”

Rask would not mind being a Finnish back-up because he’d be able to experience the Olympics. He laughs when asked if he would “pull a Mikka Kiprusoff.”

Kiprusoff declined an invitation to play at the 2006 Winter Olympics, citing a hip injury which had not kept him out of any of the his games with the Calgary Flames. This led Finns such as Teemu Selanne to question whether Kiprusoff was interested in playing for the national team.

Kiprusoff insists that he will play in the 2010 Olympics, but only if he is the starting goaltender.

“He can do that, but I can’t. I don’t have the years,” admitted Rask. “I can’t say that I’m not going if I’m not the starter. Number 1, 2, 3, it doesn’t matter. It’s the Olympics.”

Observations

* Gary Bettman
says that the NHL will consider the idea of a second outdoor game in one season. This one, however, would be in Canada, involving two Canadian teams. While dutiful consideration is a good idea, in this case REJECTION would be the best result. A second contest – even in Canada – would detract from the unique aspect of the event.

Certainly, there’s only one venue best suited for the 2011 New Year’s spectacular. That would be Yankee Stadium, topping even the 2010 Fenway Park gala.

Gossip

* A fascinating sidebar to the upcoming Winter Classic will be Uncle Sam’s Olympic roster announcement. Speculation heightens with every passing day. Dustin (The Bruiser) Byfuglien is one on-the-bubble character who seems to be favored by GM Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.).

“I haven’t heard anything,” says Byfuglien. “It’d be nice, but whatever happens, happens.”

Burke suggests that six players are in contention for the final three spots on the 23-man roster, and that at least one of them, Paul Gaustad, wasn’t at the summer orientation camp.

* A good rule of thumb in sports: Losing is not good marketing, nor is a lousy lease. Those factors have hamstrung the Columbus Blue Jackets. The club is seeking financial help to offset claims of more than $10 million in annual losses, coinciding with a 2-8-4 record the club has had since Nov. 19.

* Speaking of returning marquee players, goalie Rick DiPietro’s progress could best be defined by a ouija board. While DiPietro (Winthrop, Mass.) played parts of two games with Bridgeport of the AHL, progress was inconclusive.

Meanwhile, the Islanders’ high command remains circumspect about his return between the Nassau pipes. Best bet is that it will be later rather than sooner.

* One of the most intensely negative reactions to a player was suffered by Scott Gomez when he returned to New Jersey for the first time as a Canadien. The one-time Devil was booed on every shift right down to his last turn late in the third period.

No question, the Habs’ high command had expected more from Scotty than they have received.

“There was so much build-up for me and Brian Gionta getting back together again,” says Gomez.

True. And part of Scotty’s challenge is that the fans know that he’s getting SO much money for SO long a time!

Stan Fischler can be reached at fischlersp@gmail.com.