The U.S. men’s hockey team is set to face Slovakia in Winter Olympics group play on Thursday with one lingering question having been answered.
After much speculation, U.S. coach Dan Bylsma announced that Jonathan Quick will be the starting goalie. It has been unclear whether Quick would get the nod over Ryan Miller, who starred for the Americans in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
“I’m fortunate for the opportunity,” said Quick. “And I’ll just try to make the most of it. We’ve got a few great goalies here. Each one probably deserves to play and can make a case for each of them in their own right. So, regardless of what his decision was, whatever your role is, you’re just trying to do what you can to help your team.”
Quick, the Conn Smythe winner of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs with the Los Angeles Kings, has a .911 save percentage this season. He was out nearly two months with a groin injury before returning early last month.
The decision to start Quick is only for the game against the Slovakians, and not necessarily for the duration of the tournament, Bylsma said.
But should Quick excel against Slovakia, Bylsma may decide to stick with the 28-year-old in the all-important match with Russia.
Miller started all six games for the Americans at the Vancouver Games in 2010. In those Olympics, he went 5-1 with a .946 save percentage and was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
With the U.S. goalie controversy tentatively settled, the Americans now need to switch their focus to Slovakia, which has some notable names on their roster.
Slovakia is led by defenseman Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), and is looking to players such as Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks) and Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) to improve off its fourth place finish in Vancouver, its highest finish in Olympic hockey history.
Even though Hossa is one of the NHL’s elite players, Slovakia’s roster lacks depth.
The American forward lines have no shortage of scorers, which means that it will mainly be up to Chara to try and shut down the American’s top forwards. But Chara, who was his country’s flag-bearer in last week’s Opening Ceremony, is considered the best, if not one of the best, defenseman in the league. The Slovakians have also proven themselves capable of surprising performances, like in 2010, when they lost to Canada in the semifinals by only one goal.
Led by team captain and left winger Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild), right winger Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings) and defenseman Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild), who are alternate captains, the U.S. hopes to make its third trip to the medal rounds in the last four Olympics, and win its first gold medal since the “Miracle on Ice” team did so in 1980.
Aside from those three, the U.S. returns with most of the core group that captured the silver in Vancouver.
All of Team USA’s group and early rounds in the tournament will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, with the first game on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 a.m. ET against Slovakia. There will also be a rebroadcast on NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. ET.
After Slovakia, the U.S. will face Russia on Saturday and Slovenia on Sunday.
Prediction: USA over Slovakia, 4-1