SOCHI, Russia – U.S. Olympic men’s hockey coach Dan Bylsma has made a decision, and he doesn’t feel like sharing it.
“I’m not going to tell you if I want to see both of them play or not,” he said.
OK, so break down the candidates for us.
"In our situation, we've had a goalie play real well all year long, and we've had two goalies that have had injuries that have come back in the last month or so,” he said. “You might have some ideas in the summertime. This year, we let it play out. We've seen all our goalies play really well, and we've seen Ryan play the whole year and do very, very well on a team that's struggling. And Jonathan’s got a track record, and he’s come back in the last month and he played well as well.”
The “summertime” line might seem to point to Miller, who wasn’t even in the Team USA top 3 back at development camp but played his way back onto the Olympic roster. Quick, meanwhile, was the de facto starter for Team USA last summer, after being the No. 3 in Vancouver 2010.
So it’s Miller, right?
Said Bylsma on Tuesday: “Ryan might have been the best player in the tournament in 2010. He’s played really well this year,” he said.
“The other two goalies have had playoff success, but have been injured this year and had to play some games to get back into this thing.”
My working theory on the U.S. goaltending situation has been that Quick made more sense as the starter. He’s a goalie that can take over a tournament when he’s one, becoming impenetrable. But more to the point, Miller is a better fallback position should the U.S falter in the prelims: If Quick fails, you’ve got a silver medalist in the bullpen; if Miller fails, you have two goalies that haven’t seen a minute of Olympic play.
I asked Bylsma about that theory. “A lot of things go into the decision: Past success, injury, where they’re at right now,” he said. “But I don’t think you base that decision on it not going well.”
So Miller, right?
Know this: If the choice is Ryan Miller, then it’s Ryan Miller until he plays himself out of the job. The U.S. has the disadvantage of playing Slovakia on Thursday before facing the Russians on Saturday. They face the weakest team in their group, Slovenia, on Sunday. That's the game that would have been the one to start "the other guy"; instead, whoever starts Game 1 might play in all three preliminary games.
“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,” said Bylsma.
He may not be a believer in goalie tandems.
“I’ve certainly seen past circumstances where two goaltenders have played in a tournament and the team has gone on to have success,” he said. “Canada did it twice. I’m sure that was designed, in either of the last two. “
Bylsma’s had to make the kind of call, like in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs when he benched Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins in favor of Tomas Vokoun after Fleury was a sieve in the quarterfinals.
“This isn’t a ‘feel’ situation, like maybe last year in the playoffs was,” said Bylsma.
“I’ve looked at those situations. I know we’re dealing from a position of strength.”
And, perhaps, Ryan Miller has been deemed the strongest option.