By Shawn P. Roarke
- NHL.com Senior Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. -- With less than six months until the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics, there are many questions about Team USA that must be answered. Judging by the first day of availability with the 48 players invited to the 2013 U.S. Men's National Team Camp at Kettler Arena, none is more pressing than the identity of the eventual No. 1 goalie.
Virtually every player who arrived in the mixed zone on Day 1 of the camp was asked about the team's goaltending. Fortunately, the questions were about the position of strength from which the Americans appear to be operating and not about the deficiencies of the position.
Jimmy Howard has played well enough to take the starting job wIth the Detroit Red Wings after a considerable apprenticeship. Cory Schneider, traded to the New Jersey Devils in June, has long been considered among the game's best young prospects. And John Gibson, the youngest goalie at the camp, may not have reached the NHL yet but the Anaheim Ducks prospect has starred at both the World Junior and World Championship levels.
"My first take is I don't want to be the guy making the decision on which three guys we take," forward David Backes of the St. Louis Blues said Monday. "There are probably a couple of guys not at this camp that could be viable contenders as well.
"It's the strongest part of our team, but with that being said, we only get to throw one of those guys into the net every game. We have world-class options for 1-2-3. That a decision that those poor GMs are going to have to make and I'm glad I don't have to do it."
The people who do have to do it find the prospect no less daunting. In the end, the decision will be made by the team's front office personnel, including general manager David Poile, his assistant Ray Shero and Brian Burke, who is serving as director of player personnel. Coach Dan Bylsma will also certainly have a say.
"We are stocked through five or six people at that position," Bylsma said. "I've seen more of the East and what they have done. I saw Ryan Miller at the 2010 Olympics and he was maybe the best player on Team USA in that tournament. Obviously, Jonathan Quick has been amazing in what he has done the past few years. But in our talks this summer, Howard has been a guy that has done extremely well. Schneider is a guy we are going to watch. It's a deep, deep pool with a lot of experience and a good body of work that includes championships. It is a tough decision, not just for a starter, but who are the goalies going to be on our team."
Don't fear, Anderson and Gibson weren't left off the list. It seems Burke has their back.
"Craig Anderson in America gets very little note because he plays in Ottawa," Burke said. "He's been phenomenal the last couple of years. John Gibson is the real deal in my opinion; so certainly that is going to be a hard decision. Certainly we're not going in with anyone penciled in as 1 and 1A or whatever, so we will see."
The fact that there is not an established No. 1 goaltender doesn't bother the man who occupied that position four years ago. Miller understands that the best goalie at the time of the Olympics will earn the No. 1 designation -- just as it was when he won the job from Tim Thomas four years earlier.
"This is wide open," Miller said. "This is situation where certainly your body of work is what got you in this position – invited – how you’re playing is going to be the big factor. It was last time.
"I’m just going to go about my business. I want to make the team and I want to be the guy who is there stopping pucks in Sochi. I want to start, I want to play and that’s the approach I’m going to take."
It's the same approach his competition is taking.
"You have to believe that you are good enough to play and good enough to be on that team," Anderson said. "The moment that you don't feel you are good enough, you might as well pack your bags and go home. You are here for a reason; they feel you have the potential to make the team."
Someone will reach that potential in early February and earn the right to be the No. 1 goalie as the Americans go for the gold that eluded them by a goal four years ago. The journey to that decision will be one of the most watched -- and debated -- on the road to Sochi.