NEW YORK – Elite athletes are elite because they have an unquenchable thirst for achievement, whether it’s about minutes or money or awards or championship success.
Jonathan Quick has attained all of those during his National Hockey League career: Earning the Los Angeles Kings starting goaltender job, a Stanley Cup ring, a Conn Smythe and then a gigantic 10-year contract extension.
One job, and one prize, remains unattained, however: To become the U.S. Olympic starting goalie and to lead the Americans to their first gold medal since 1980.
The 2014 Sochi Games could be Quick time – if the goalie’s up for the challenge.
Quick was the third goalie on the roster in Vancouver, behind Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas. That experience puts him in the driver’s seat for the 2014 starting gig, as Quick was, as expected, named to the U.S. Olympic Development Camp roster on Monday.
“If you say 'it’s his to lose,' it’s usually someone that’s done it before, like a Ryan Miller,” said Kings GM Dean Lombardi, at a USA Hockey press conference in New York last month.
“I think the better term is that ‘he’s the better candidate’ at this time. Judging from our meeting, it’s certainly trending that way.”
But this isn’t going to be a coronation. USA Hockey GM David Poile indicated that the goalie playing the best hockey heading into the Olympics will have the best chance to start.
Players know it, too, whether they’re on the roster or up for a spot. Please recall Mike Green’s struggles coinciding with his Olympic snub back in 2010 for Team Canada.
Is Lombardi concerned that this opportunity might weight too heavily on Quick, and cause him to struggle for the Kings this season?
“No. And that’s the god’s honest truth.”
Lombardi said Quick has the mental makeup to handle the pressure and win the job.
“I might say I’m concerned, but I’m not because of the way he is. That’s one of the reasons – probably the biggest reason – he is where he is: He’s unflappable,” said Lombardi.
Quick posted a 2.45 GAA and a .902 save percentage last season, inflated numbers from his 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage from the previous season. But his postseason numbers are astounding: in 50 games, a 2.03 GAA and a .929 save percentage, with seven shutouts.
“If something goes wrong, he forgets about it. He’s got a short term memory. If you look at any great player in any sport, they forget about it, rather than have it snowball. He’s shown that from day one, early in his career,” said Lombardi.
He said Quick made it clear, from the moment he made the 2010 roster, that his goal was to start for his nation.
“It was very clear what his goal was. He wasn’t being arrogant. He wasn’t being disrespectful. But he said, ‘One day, I’m going to be the one,’” said Lombardi.
“He does it in a way where it’s not about him, but that’s what competitive guys do.”
Lombardi himself is a competitive guy, and enjoys being part of the Team USA management team. In some ways, he said, it’s a nice respite from the day-to-day pressure of being an NHL general manager.
“[People] have no idea what being a GM of the team is like. That was taught to me early in my career,” he said. “My father in law told me once, ‘The problem with being a GM is that everything thinks you can do your job.’
“To the outsider, they think it’s a fantasy league. ‘Trade this guy for that guy!’ Well, if they other guy was a complete village idiot, maybe.”
But the U.S. Olympic roster building with his fellow NHL general managers? That actually feels like they’re in a room, creating a fantasy hockey team. No salary cap, no trades, no repercussions for the following season. Just pick a winner.
“This is the only time it feels like one,” he said.
Eventually, it’ll be up to them to figure out if Jonathan Quick is the right goalie to make their fantasies become reality.