The bad news for USA Hockey Fans is that it appears as though there will be some uncertainty between the pipes as the next Olympic Games approach, and the Americans don’t seem to have a plethora of options. The good news for those following this blog? That should cut content by a few hundred words and save everyone a few valuable minutes! So lets get to it!
There is no question with Ryan Miller playing at the top of his game in Vancouver, goaltending was a strength for the 2010 club. If you want to look at just how impressive the U.S. run was in taking Canada to overtime in the Gold Medal game, consider the fact that Miller may have been the only American born player that could have cracked a stacked Canadian line up at the 2010 games (I am as patriotic as the next guy and believe one could have made arguments for Parise, Suter and Kane, but there were a number of top end talents left off that Canadian roster as well).
Fifteen American born goaltenders have seen time in the NHL this season, including all three keepers (Miller, Thomas, Quick) who represented the U.S. in Vancouver. But a year, or in this case four, can mean a world of difference, especially in a position as mentally challenging as goal, so these may prove to be the toughest roster spots to predict.
Here now is a look at five of the top candidates who will be fighting for just three spots.
Ryan Miller (BUF)- Miller thrived in Vancouver and deserved every ounce of praise he received while playing all but 12 minutes over six games and leading Team USA to the Silver Medal. Coming out of the last Olympic Games, the responsibility of being the last line of defense for the Americans seemed as though it would fall on the Michigan native’s shoulders for the foreseeable future. Fast forward 24 months, and we have ourselves a goalie controversy. Miller has suffered from some concussion issues in 2011-2012 and struggled in what may end up being his worst statistical season to date as he tries to keep an underachieving Sabres squad out of the Eastern Conference basement. Ultimately, this half of a season will not define Miller and he is likely still the front runner for the starting job when 2014 rolls around, but it certainly will open up the debate and speculation.
Tim Thomas (BOS)- Since serving as the back up for Miller in Vancouver in 2010, all Time Thomas has done on the ice is set a regular season save percentage record, win a Vezina, win a Conn Smyth, and lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years with one of the greatest playoff performances in NHL history. In most cases you would assume this to be a “passing of the guard” type situation with the “young back up” coming in to his own and taking over for the old vet in 2014. The problem is, Thomas was 35 in 2010 and will be 39 when the Games resume in 2014. Combine that with some of his recent off ice controversies, and there is absolutely nothing you could say about Tim Thomas’ “status” in 2014 that would surprise me. If he is serving as the starter or back up for the next edition of Team USA, I wouldn’t think twice. If he has since left the NHL for a life in politics or isolation, or chosen to take his talents to a country where the hockey is still competitive but the government is more in line with his views, well, none of that would shock me either. He remains the country, and perhaps the games greatest wild card!
Jonathan Quick (LAK)- Quick is enjoying an outstanding season in Los Angeles and is among the league leaders in both Save Percentage (.934) and Goals Against (1.97). The Connecticut native and UMass product will be 27 years old and in the prime of his career when the festivities kick off in Sochi and will present an interesting case when it comes time for the U.S. staff to pick their three and name their starter.
Cory Schneider (VAN)- No longer buried in the American League or strictly “Roberto Luongo’s back up,” Schneider has seen increasing minutes and gained valuable experience as part of a talented Vancouver club over the past two seasons. Last year, as the Canucks marched through the regular season on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals, Schneider saw action in a career high 25 games, a number he looks like he will surpass with ease this year. He has posted an impressive 2.26 GAA and .928 Save Percentage in 2011-2012, and will no doubt continue to make an interesting case for starting minutes this post season and be a desirable piece for NHL GM’s looking for a franchise goaltender down the stretch or in the off season, if Mike Gillis doesn’t decide Schneider should fill that role with the Canucks first.
Jimmy Howard (DET)- Like Schneider, Howard waited patiently in the minors and developed his game before getting the call to the big club. Like most poised and calculated moves the Wings front office makes when it comes to patience and player development, this one too paid off. Prior to a recent injury, Howard has enjoyed a career year for what has been at times an unbeatable Red Wings team, particularly at home. Howard leads the league with 32 wins, has a 2.03 GAA, and a .924 Save Percentage.
Making these five become three will no doubt be an unenviable task for the Team U.S.A. staff.
Other Notable Candidates
Craig Anderson (OTT), Rick DiPietro (NYI)