Spotlight now on Jonathan Quick
SOCHI, Russia -- There is no place for sentiment at the Olympic hockey tournament. History, even as recent as four years ago, is just that, history.
Which explains in part why U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff have opted to go with Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick as the starter as the Americans begin their pursuit of a gold medal with their first game of the tournament Thursday night against Slovakia.
In a move that caught some by surprise, Bylsma skated by Quick while he was stretching prior to Wednesday's midday practice and told the 2012 playoff MVP that he would see his first Olympic action Thursday.That leaves Ryan Miller, the MVP of the Vancouver Olympic tournament four years ago, as backup. There had been much debate about which way Bylsma would go with his goaltending, and given Miller's play in Vancouver, and with the Americans opening the tournament with two tough preliminary-round games against the Slovaks and then host Russia on Saturday, there was a belief that Miller's star turn in Vancouver would see him get the nod as the starter.
But Bylsma went the other way in naming Quick as his starter in what will be a key test for the Americans. Quick, of course, was such a critical part of the Kings' first Stanley Cup title in 2012 and then again last spring as the Kings advanced to the Western Conference finals against Chicago.
"I think we're dealing with a position of strength when it comes to the goaltender, the goaltender decision," Bylsma said. "As we've said in the past, body of work and big games. Jonathan's won a championship with his team, won a Stanley Cup.
"Certainly Ryan this year has played very well for his team as well. So we're dealing from a position of where we have two very good guys to be in net and Jonathan will be getting the nod."
Unlike Canadian counterpart Mike Babcock, who announced Wednesday that Carey Price would start Canada's first game against Norway and that Roberto Luongo would start the team's second game against Austria, Bylsma would not divulge his goaltending plans beyond the Slovakia game.
"We have plans for Game 1," he said.
That said, it's hard to imagine that if Quick plays well Thursday, and the Americans win, he wouldn't get the start in the toughest game of the three-game preliminary round Saturday against Russia.
The U.S. finishes the preliminary round with a game Sunday against Slovenia.
Quick missed a month and a half with a groin injury earlier this season. But since returning to action Jan. 4 he has played well for the most part even though his Kings have failed to provide much offense.
In 16 games since returning, Quick has allowed two or fewer goals 11 times.
"He just told me I was starting tomorrow's game. That was pretty much it," Quick said.
Never given to hyperbole, Quick downplayed the import of the starting assignment.
"We've got three great goaltenders on this team," Quick said, referring to Miller and Detroit's Jimmy Howard, who is expected to be the third goaltender but not see any action. "Every one of us wants to play and wants to give this team a chance to win. I'm fortunate for the opportunity and just try and make the most of it."
Quick was in that role four years ago in Vancouver as the third guy behind Miller and Tim Thomas. He did not see any game action as the Americans went undefeated in regulation throughout the tournament, losing only once, in overtime to Canada in the gold-medal game.
Miller played all but 12 minutes in the tournament and was outstanding throughout.
"Obviously there's a lot of hard work put into it," Quick said. "I think the biggest thing is being able to play with guys back in L.A., the guys that I play with. It says a lot about them. When you play with great players they put you in a position and give you opportunities like this. So you're thankful for that. Obviously, we've got a great group of guys here and just try to win one game at a time. That's the focus."
Miller was disappointed but gracious.
"It's coach's decision," he said. "Obviously, I want to play and compete and be here to do my part. Right now I just back up John. He's a great goalie. He's going to do great for us. And see where it goes from here and just be ready to play."
Even the goaltenders don't know Bylsma's plan.
"No real indication of a long-term plan," Miller said. "Or a short-term plan. He's playing it close just like he's telling you guys."
Quick is among the most athletic of netminders in the NHL, and he is remarkably understated.
Asked if he thought he might be nervous before Thursday's game, he shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know. We'll see tomorrow," he said.
Nervous or not Quick has suddenly found himself in the Olympic spotlight. Thursday will begin to tell the tale about whether he is as comfortable on that stage as he is on the NHL stage.
"Regardless of what his decision was, whatever your role is, you're just trying to do what you can to help your team," Quick said. "Whether that's in the starting position or the backup position. And then again it's only tomorrow's game; that the decision's made for. Just get the opportunity tomorrow and try and make the most of it."