In past Winter Olympics, the goalie for the U.S. Men’s hockey team has consistently drawn the spotlight. Whether it was Jim Craig in 1980, Ray LeBlanc in 1992, or Ryan Miller in 2010, Team USA’s netminder has played a particularly crucial role in the squad’s run.
In 2014, it may not be much different. USA Hockey announced the three goaltenders for the Sochi 2014 Olympics on New Year’s Day to little surprise. Miller is back and is joined again by Jonathan Quick, with Jimmy Howard also included on the roster. Miller and Quick are expected to battle for the starting spot, as both are regarded as among the best goalies in the world. Meanwhile, despite some struggles this season, Howard is looking to regain the form he showed in previous seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.
The Michigan native played a crucial role in leading Team USA to the silver medal in Vancouver four years ago. Miller was 5-0-1 with a 1.35 goals against average, a .946 save percentage, and had a shutout en route to earning Most Valuable Player and Best Goaltender honors.
Miller’s previous Olympic experience could be important in working with a very young defense with limited Olympic experience. Of the eight defenders, only Bruce Orpik and Ryan Suter were on the Vancouver Games roster.
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The 33-year-old has a 0.927 save percentage this season for the Buffalo Sabres. There have been six games in which Miller had at least 35 saves and a save percentage higher than 0.920. Miller’s lack of support in Buffalo is well-known, which is why the selection committee overlooked his NHL-worst 12-26-4 record. In three of those losses, he posted a 0.950 save percentage or better.
Unlike in 2010, when he was at his peak form, Miller may have to share the duties in Sochi.
The Los Angeles Kings star made his return last Saturday after missing 24 games with a groin strain he suffered Nov. 12. While his injury raises some concerns on how ready he will be when the U.S. team plays their first game against Slovakia on Feb. 13, Quick has played solid since his return Jan. 4. In his return against the Vancouver Canucks, Quick stopped 27 of Vancouver’s 28 shots en route to a 3-1 victory.
In 2012, the Connecticut native led the Los Angeles Kings to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player in the postseason by going 16-4 with a 1.41 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts.
Quick, 27, is considered to be one of the best young players in the game, and fits what Team USA is doing at a lot of other positions — using young players to showcase the future of U.S. Hockey.
Chances are slim that the Detroit goalie will see much action in Sochi.
Howard made the U.S. roster based on his success the past two seasons, but has had his struggles for the Red Wings in the 2013-2014 season. The 29-year-old has a .911 save percentage, and a 2.65 goals-allowed average, which are both below his career numbers.
The New York state native is still capable of stepping up should Miller or Quick struggle or get hurt.
Hockey action begins in Sochi on Feb. 12, with the gold medal game on Feb. 23.
Nick Forrester contributed to this report.