USA Hockey has no greater strength than its abundance of talent among goalies. With goaltending depth that’s the envy of arguably every other hockey federation, it will provide the team’s backbone at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
That explains why choosing the three goalies to make the final roster will be one of the most difficult assignments for General Manager David Poile and his staff as they work toward finalizing the roster in late December.
During the U.S. Olympic orientation camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington this week, Poile explained that a player’s body of work up to this point will be factored into the decision-making process. But “equally, if not more important, is what you’re going to do in October, November and December,” he said.
“We’re strong through five and six people in that position,” Coach Dan Bylsma added. “It’s a deep, deep pool with a lot of good players. They’ve got good experience. They’ve got a good body of work, won championships and have past experience. It’s a tough decision, not just for a starter but who are going to be the three on our team.”
Even Ryan Miller, who played so well during the 2010 Olympics to fuel the silver-medal effort in Vancouver, is not a lock to make the team.
Miller, 33, has seen his play decline in recent seasons and finished last year with a 2.81 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
Without a strong start, Miller could find himself watching rather than playing in Sochi, and he knows better than to have any expectations of making the team based on Olympic nostalgia.
“This is wide open,” Miller said. “The job I did was three-and-a-half, almost four years ago. You can’t stack that in the net behind you and have it deflect pucks away for you. You have to refocus, reestablish and start over.”
The favorite to be named the No. 1 this time around is Los Angeles’s Jonathan Quick. A Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner in 2012, Quick, 27, has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite netminders in the four years since he served as the third goaltender during the Vancouver Olympics.
Then there’s Craig Anderson, 32, who often goes overlooked despite quality performances for the Ottawa Senators in recent years. Last year, Anderson finished with a .941 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average but only played 24 games because of injury.
If he can stay healthy, the Illinois native could be a strong contender for Sochi.
“It’s one of the things where you have to have the mentality that you want to be better than the next guy,” Anderson said. “You can’t be disappointed if you don’t make it. You just have to know that you put everything out there and when you put your head on the pillow at night that you won’t be saying, ‘What if I did this’ or ‘What if I did that?’ ”
Jimmy Howard, 29, went 21-13-7 last year with a .923 save percentage and 2.13 goals-against average to help drive the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff push and has developed a reputation as a confident and calming influence on his teammates.
Another option is Cory Schneider, 27, but it is uncertain how many starts he’ll see for the New Jersey Devils behind Martin Brodeur.
In his 98 NHL appearances, Schneider has posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average, but whether he sees enough playing time in the first few months of the season to make an impression on the USA Hockey brass is uncertain.
It won’t be a simple decision for the U.S. management staff this year, but Poile relishes the challenge to make the best ones.
“Honestly, I hope it’s going to be tough. I don’t want any easy decisions here,” Poile said. “With all due respect, we’ve never really had that many hard decisions to make in USA Hockey, because we’ve never had the depth, the quality that we presently have. So bring it on.”