SOCHI, Russia – Goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings will start for the U.S. against Slovakia on Thursday – and potentially the rest of the Sochi Olympics men’s ice hockey tournament for the Americans.
It's a bit of a surprise, given the player he beat out took the U.S. to a silver medal four years ago.
Coach Dan Bylsma had been evading questions about his choice, his process and his philosophy in selecting a starting goalie for Team USA. Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres had stated an emphatic case this season, playing outstanding hockey behind a last-place team. Quick was limited to 32 games due to injury this season, and was inconsistent down the stretch to the Olympic break for the Kings.
All signs were pointing to Miller. Bylsma dropped hints about things "changing since the summer" and praising Miller's play while the team's other two goalies, Quick and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings, were injured in the NHL.
Quick was the third-string goalie behind Miller in the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Ryan Miller backstopped the Americans to a silver medal in a star-making performance. It was assumed Quick was being groomed for the 2014 Winter Games, and he was expected starter last summer for the Americans. As of two weeks into the NHL regular season, GM David Poile was quoted by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside as saying, “I think he's the guy. I think it's what we felt in the summer.”
Miller’s play and Quick’s injury complicated those plans, but in the end the U.S. had their guy and was confident he had recovered from his groin injury.
"Given the year, with Jonathan being injured, coming back from that injury, and playing 12 games really was a key for him to get back in that net. He's played real well since that time period, and has some good numbers, goals-against (average) a shade above two in that time period. Either guy going in that cage is going to give us a real good guy in net," said Bylsma.
Will Miller get a look before the medal round? Not likely, unless Quick implodes against Slovakia.
The Americans open with the two toughest games in their group, including Russia on Saturday, before facing Slovenia to close out preliminaries. There’s no reason to give Miller a start in that game if Quick plays well in the first two.
One thing Bylsma was clear about this week: “I’m not going to announce that we’re splitting games. When I name a starting goaltender, that’s who is going to start in Game 1.”
As I’ve said before: This makes the most sense.
Quick is the type of goaltender that can win a tournament on his own if he’s locked in. And if he falters, you have a silver medalist ready to come in from the bullpen. Bylsma told me that wasn’t a factor in the decision, but it’s impossible not to think having the veteran backup isn’t Bylsma’s preference.
So Jonathan Quick gets to wear the crown he’s been fitted for over the last two years. Dean Lombardi, his GM with the Kings, told me that his mental toughness is his greatest attribute. With the pressure of the Olympic tournament on one shoulder and Miller glaring at him over the other, he’d better be.