December 23, 2013

From NEHJ: A local look in net for Team USA?

By Jesse Connolly and Andrew Merritt


Clockwise from top left, Hockey East alums Jimmy Howard, Ben Bishop, Cory Schneider (Marblehead, Mass.) and Jon Quick (Hamden, Conn.) are among the USA's best picks to play goal in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics.
 

For all we know, Ryan Miller could’ve been a single save away from becoming an Olympic legend on the last day of February 2010. The Sabres netminder backstopped Team USA all the way to overtime of the gold-medal game, but Canada’s Sidney Crosby scored in the extra session, giving the host country the ultimate prize and forcing the Americans to settle for silver.

Miller (5-1, 1.35 goals-against average) was superb at the Winter Games in Vancouver, earning tournament MVP honors. In the time that’s passed, however, four goaltenders with New England roots have risen to prominence in the NHL. There’s a slight possibility they collectively keep Miller off the final roster, but odds are high that one of them will supplant him as the starting goaltender for the United States in Sochi in 2014.

Here’s a look at the quartet of Hockey East alumni with a shot at standing between the pipes for Team USA in February:

 

Cory Schneider

New Jersey Devils

Age: 27 | Hometown: Marblehead, Mass.

Hockey East résumé: Of the four guys in question, Schneider is far and away the one possessing the best collegiate career. Boston College won a Hockey East title his freshman year and went to the Frozen Four his sophomore and junior seasons. He hasn’t exactly turned that into an eye-opening pro career, and until this year he hadn’t been anyone’s starter in nearly a decade, but when he was an Eagle, he was one of the best in the country.

Pro résumé: After a long wait in the wings, Schneider finally took over the Vancouver crease and supplanted Roberto Luongo last season as the Canucks’ starter, but he’s back in the same position after being traded to the Devils. The Bay State native owned a sparking 1.98 goals-against average through nine starts but, thanks to a lack of goal support, had a 1-5-3 record. As a whole, however, Schneider’s body of work since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2010 is impressive. He owns a 56-31-11 record, 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 107 regular-season games, and a .922 save percentage in 10 playoff tilts.

In his words: “If I am even considered, it would be truly humbling and honoring. It seems the U.S. is pretty deep in goal. You could pick any two or three, and I’m sure they would be in good hands.”

Sizing up his chances: Team USA’s head honchos are wise enough to see through Schneider’s underwhelming record, but 41-year-old teammate Martin Brodeur’s re-emergence is a major hindrance. “If Brodeur, who has won five of his last six starts, continues to play well, that will mean fewer starts for Schneider and less of an opportunity to impress those selecting the Olympic team,” NorthJersey.com’s Tom Gulitti wrote.

Prediction: Schneider won’t crack the 2014 roster, thanks to being in a 1A-1B situation currently, but has a shot at the Winter Games.

Jonathan Quick

Los Angeles Kings

Age: 27 | Hometown: Hamden, Conn.

Hockey East résumé: Quick’s collegiate career was brief, but no one begrudged him the desire to jump ship early and turn pro. His sophomore season of 2006-07, when UMass made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament, was pretty special, and even if he wasn’t the best goalie in Hockey East that year, he showed plenty of signs of future success.

Pro résumé: After plying his trade briefly in both the ECHL and the AHL, Quick was soon on the fast track to stardom in L.A., wasting no time becoming the Kings’ starter. After flaming out in the first round of the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, the ex-Minuteman turned in one of the most dominant runs by a goalie in postseason history in 2012, leading the Kings to their first Cup and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy with a 16-4 record and 1.41 goals-against average. Quick, who served as the third-string goalie for the U.S. in 2010, was nearly as superb this past spring, proving his championship run was no fluke as he helped the Kings make a return trip to the conference finals.

In his words: “I didn’t know many guys (at the 2010 Olympics), especially guys around the team. It gave me an opportunity to meet a bunch of the guys and also watching (Ryan Miller) and how he prepared for games of that magnitude. It’s little things here and there that you pick up on.”

Sizing up his chances: Quick entered the 2013-14 NHL season as the favorite to be the United States’ starter, but a groin strain suffered in November may pose a problem. “The far edge of the time frame for Quick’s recovery is close to the scheduled Jan. 1 roster announcement but well before the Feb. 12 start of the men’s Olympic tournament,” Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times wrote. “But to be safe in Sochi, Team USA executives might now choose another elite starter for the No. 2 job.”

Prediction: Provided he’s fully healed when the calendar turns to 2014, it’s hard to fathom Quick not being this squad’s No. 1 netminder. None of the candidates have more effectively proven they can thrive on the big stage.

 

Jimmy Howard

Detroit Red Wings

Age: 29 | Hometown: Ogdensburg, N.Y.

Hockey East résumé: After winning the Hockey East Rookie of the Year award as a freshman, Jimmy was a workhorse his junior year at Maine, playing 39 games after platooning with Frank Doyle the two seasons prior. And he earned it, after taking the Black Bears to a Hockey East title as a sophomore in 2003-04. In that 39-game junior season, he survived an average year from his team, posting a 1.92 GAA and .924 save percentage even as Maine struggled to recapture the magic from the year before.

Pro résumé: After following up a dynamite 37-win season as a 25-year-old rookie with a slight case of the dreaded sophomore slump, many pegged Howard as the latest so-so goalie benefitting from playing for the powerhouse Red Wings. He silenced all of his critics over the next two seasons, posting a 2.12 goals-against average in a combined 99 games and leading the league with five shutouts during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, enjoying his finest campaign to date despite the retirement of star blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom. Howard reached the 250-game mark in November and now owns a career mark of 136-72-32. In four trips to the playoffs, the former Black Bear has a 20-22 record with a .918 save percentage.

In his words: “The first Olympics I remember watching was 1992 when Ray LeBlanc was in goal for the United States. It’s something that I would put on the same level as a Stanley Cup. You’re not just representing and playing for an organization or a city, you’re playing for your country.”

Sizing up his chances: If Quick is a lock and Miller’s heroics in 2010 are enough to overshadow his struggles for a dismal Sabres squad, that leaves one spot up for grabs. It’ll help Howard’s chances if he can improve after a mediocre start to the season, as he began the year with a 5-5-6 record and 2.68 goals-against average.

Prediction: Howard and the Wings get their bearings in their first season playing in the Eastern Conference, and the Detroit netminder holds off the competition to nail down the No. 3 spot for Team USA.

 

Ben Bishop

Tampa Bay Lightning

Age: 27 | Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Hockey East résumé: Bishop’s time at Maine was all over the place. In his first two seasons, the Black Bears went a combined 51-27-4, while in his third and final year (2007-08), they were a woeful 13-18-3. But amazingly, Bishop himself was steady throughout. His goals against was a little higher in 2007-08, but his save percentage was just a tick off the previous year, so he was obviously seeing a lot more rubber.

Pro résumé: Buried on the Blues’ depth chart in his first few years as a pro, Bishop claimed the backup role in Ottawa last year and was a solid fill-in for starter and fellow Olympic hopeful Craig Anderson. His strong play led to the Sens flipping him to Tampa, where he’s flourished in a way many long anticipated. Through his first 16 games, Bishop had a league-leading 13 victories for the overachieving Bolts and a 2.11 goals-against average. Playing behind an upstart team chock full of inexperienced youngsters has posed no problem for the 6-foot-7 netminder and, in fact, should earn him bonus points when his name gets bandied about by Team USA’s management group.

In his words: “It would be a huge honor. At the same time, it’s not my focus. If you take care of business here, that might or might not happen.”

Sizing up his chances: Bishop’s the only goalie in this group who wasn’t invited to Team USA’s orientation camp, but David Poile, the United States’ GM, insists that no amount of past experience with Team USA outweighs how well a player is currently faring. “We need guys who are playing well this year,” Poile said. “Certainly that favors somebody like Ben with how he’s playing.”

Prediction: The easy guess would be saying Bishop will come back down to earth and fail to make this squad, but if he keeps rolling throughout December, there’s a very real chance he could bump either Miller or Howard out.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ

Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com