ANN ARBOR, MI -- Before USA Hockey announced its 25-man roster for the upcoming Sochi Olympics at the conclusion of the Winter Classic, the debate about who should make the squad saw many different combinations for lines, defense pairings and goaltenders. In goal, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick were figured to be the two locks, but who would fill the no. 3 role was all over the map.
Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning is having his best season yet. Tim Thomas came back to the NHL this season with the goal to make the U.S. squad for the second straight Olympics. Cory Schneider's name was talked up after his play over the last several years. Craig Anderson was in the mix, but his play this season knocked him out of contention.
But the one goaltender who had the most important part of the Team USA checklist checked off was Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.
Since their orientation camp in August, Team USA general manager David Poile has stated repeatedly that a player's body of work would weigh heavier in determining whether or not they are chosen than what they do over the first three months of the NHL season. Howard played in the U.S. National Development Program and has repped his country at the World U-18's, World Junior Championship and World Championships. Not to mention, Poile was a regular viewer of his when Detroit and his Nashville Predators were division mates in the Central.
“I know what Jimmy Howard can do and the rest of our committee knows what he can do," said Poile after the roster announcement.
“Jimmy would acknowledge probably he hasn’t had the best season, but when you go on the body of work [3 straight 35-win seasons], fabulous record in the playoffs, winning on the road in the playoffs... all those things that certainly made our decision.”
“November wasn’t very kind to me," said Howard. "Then going down with a knee injury in early December and just working my tail off with myself and my trainers. They did a tremendous job of getting me back. Now it’s just about going out there and getting into a rhythm."
Poile acknowledged that the decision-making process for 2014 was tougher than what the USA Hockey staff had to go through in 2010. The talent pool has grown significantly in four years, so much so that it's changed the organization's mindset heading into Sochi in February.
“We expect to win," said Poile. "And, I think for the first time, other countries are regarding the U.S. as one of the favorites in the Olympics.”
With a Vezina Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner and Howard, who's played plenty of big games with the Red Wings in his four and a half years as a starter, once again the Americans don't have to worry about the men tending their net. The skill in net has made the position USA Hockey's biggest strength.
“The competition is fierce, but I think that’s a good thing," said Howard."We’re going to be able to push each other.”
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