With the Olympic torch lit, and the 2012 London Games well underway, CSNWashington.com is already looking ahead to the 2014 Sochi Games.
NHL player participation in the next Winter Olympics is still pending approval from the Board of Governors in the next CBA, but assuming that the best players in the world will be made available to the worlds biggest stage, the United States should be in the mix for another podium finish.
In the days ahead CSNWashington.com will examine USA Hockeys 2014 Mens Olympic roster position by position, beginning today with the goalies.
For years the games best netminders have hailed primarily from Canada, but the rest of the world appears to have caught up.
Since 1994, only two Canadians have won the Vezina Trophy as the NHLs best goalie (Martin Brodeur x4 and Jose Theodore) and in 2004 Nikolai Khabibulin (Russia) and Mikka Kiprusoff (Finland) became the first European goalies to square off in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But is this a golden age for U.S. goalies? Consider that in 2009 and 2010 Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller became the first Americans to win the Vezina Trophy in back-to-back years (Thomas then won again in 2011).
And the success of the American goalie also extends to the Stanley Cup Finals where Thomas (2011) and Jonathan Quick (2012) became the first Americans to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP in consecutive years.
As USA Hockey looks towards the 2014 Sochi Games, goaltending may be its deepest position.
JONATHAN QUICK (Los Angeles Kings): The Milford, CONN native led the NHL last season with 10 shutouts, finished second with a 1.95 goals-against-average and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy. This was all before he had even backstopped the Los Angeles Kings to an improbable Stanley Cup win.
Quick, 26, was rewarded at seasons end with a ten-year contract extension and he may just be USA Hockeys No.1 goalie for the next decade as well.
Quick was the Americans No.3 goalie at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
IN THE MIX:
JIMMY HOWARD (Detroit Red Wings): Only three goalies have won more games the past two years than the 28-year-old, Syracuse, NY native. It should also be noted though, that only three teams have scored more goals than Detroit has over those same two years.
Unlike Quick who had to be exceptional just to get the 29th ranked offense into the playoffs last season, Howard just had to be good enough with the high-scoring Red Wings. In a short tournament where so much of a teams success can lie with a hot goalie (see Hasek, 1998, Czech Republic or Miller, 2010, USA), Howard may not be that dominant goalie who can steal games.
Howard was the Americans No.1 goalie at the 2012 World Hockey Championships.
CORY SCHNEIDER (Vancouver Canucks): Two years after Roberto Luongo backstopped Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Schneider has replaced Luongo as the Canucks No.1 goalie.
While Luongo has had his struggles in Vancouver, the steady play of Schneider, 26, led to a three-year 12 million deal this summer and a clear message from Canucks management that their future lies with the Salem, MASS native.
Schneider finished second last season with a .937 save percentage and he was third with a 1.96 GAA but it remains to be seen how he will do as a fulltime starter. The first-round pick (26th overall) from the 2006 NHL Entry Draft has 56 career NHL starts.
Schneider has not played on USA Hockeys Mens National Team, but he played with the U.S. at the 2004 World U-18 Championships and at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships.
THANKS FOR COMING:
RYAN MILLER (Buffalo Sabres): Miller set the record straight at the 2010 Vancouver Games that he was the best goalie in the world. He went 5-0-0 in leading the U.S. to the gold medal game before falling 3-2 in overtime against the host Canadians. He was named tournament MVP and finished with a .946 SV and an Olympic record 1.35 GAA. Months later he won his first career Vezina Trophy.
But since that magical run in 2010 when he finished second in the NHL in both SV and GAA, Millers numbers have dropped significantly. The East Lansing, MI native has finished outside the top-15 in SV and outside of the top-20 in GAA in each of the past two years.
In addition to starting for the U.S. in 2010, the 32-year-old was a backup for the U.S. at the 2006 Turin Games.
TIM THOMAS (Boston Bruins): It remains unclear if Thomas will ever play in the NHL again let alone represent the U.S. in Sochi in 2014. Shortly after the Washington Capitals eliminated the Bruins from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thomas announced on his Facebook page that would sit out the 2012-13 season.
After a dream season in 2010-11 which saw Thomas lead the NHL with a 2.00 GAA and .938 SV and win the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies (plus that big silver mug they hand out at the end of the year), the Flint, MI native dropped to 10th in GAA and SV last year.
Thomas also drew attention for all the wrong reasons when he refused to join his teammates for their visit to the White House and took to social media to share his political opinions.
Unless Thomas returns to the NHL in 2013-14 and can display his 2011 form, its hard to imagine USA Hockey bringing someone along who could potentially use the Olympic stage to make more political statements and serve as a distraction to the team.
Thomas has represented the U.S. at five World Championships and he was the Americans backup goalie at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Ben Bishop (Ottawa Senators), Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators), Richard Bachman (Dallas Stars), Scott Clemmensen (Florida Panthers)
Which goalies do you think will represent the United States at the 2014 Sochi Games? Share your comments below. Check back on CSNWashington.com in the days to come for other positions.