The 2014 Sochi Olympic games are less than 1 year away which means the NHL must quickly decide on whether they are to send players over to Russia for the games or not. Of course for players like Alex Ovechkin it really doesn't matter as he's stated he will go anyways. There's not really any harm in sending the players to Russia to play in the Olympics, one of the biggest stages for any hockey players and the NHL may even get some good publicity by doing it after the whole lockout fiasco. For the purpose of this article let's just assume NHL players will be allowed to suit up for their respective countries at the 2014 Olympic games.
We're going to take a look at the top goaltending candidates for each of the 3 "power teams" Canada, USA and Russia.
When Canada sends a national team to these types of tournaments it's almost assured they'll come home with a gold medal in order to retain their world hockey supremacy. In 2010 team Canada faced a bit of scare from the Americans and Ryan Miller. For 2014 Canada will be looking for solid goaltending so what happened in 2010 doesn't happen again.
Starter: Carey Price
[caption id="attachment_2360" align="alignright" width="300"] Carey Price in 2007[/caption]
While the Montreal Canadiens goaltender may be short on experience, he's good. His game has come a long way and he's matured since his 2007 World Junior Championship, his play in the NHL lately proves he's ready for the task of backstopping team Canada at the Olympics. Coming off what looks to be a solid year with the Canadiens, Price will be the frontrunner to carry team Canada in net. Let's not forget he'll be behind 6 world class defenceman, the best of the best in the world- something he doesn't necessarily have in Montreal.
Backup: Cam Ward
With the resume Cam Ward will bring to team Canada it would be hard to overlook him as Price's backup. He's got a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and a World Championship gold medal. Ward is turning heads with his play in Carolina and would be a solid choice as Canada's number 2 guy.
3rd String: Roberto Luongo
There's lots of talk about whether Luongo can get the job done when it matters most- the 2011 Playoffs, and even his suspect play at the 2010 Olympics. Team Canada management knows this, which is why they will include Luongo on the roster but will not name him as the starter for the key games. Let's face it Luongo is a solid goaltender and he's proving that right now in Vancouver, any team would be lucky to have him, but is he team Canada starter material- I don't think so.
If you're looking for a full list of all possible Team Canada players check out We Want A Cup
Thanks to a brilliant performance by Ryan Miller the Americans came so close to snatching away gold from the Canadians. This year they'll be looking for revenge and will need some solid tenders to slow down both the Russians and Canadians.
Starter: Jonathan Quick
Quick is the only one of the 3 American goalies who has a Stanley Cup to his name. As poor as he's playing right now, there's still time for him to turn it around and that Stanley Cup Championship speaks volumes. He proved he can backstop an under-dog team and turn them into champions and that's exactly the kind of goalie the Americans will need. As long as he regains his game look for Quick to be the go-to man at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Backup: Ryan Miller
[caption id="attachment_2363" align="alignright" width="300"] Ryan Miller at the 2010 Olympics[/caption]
Sure Miller may have fallen from grace over the last couple of seasons but he's still a top notch goalie in the NHL and one of the best options for the Americans. With Miller it's a case of "What have you done for me lately." Well he did backstop the Americans to a silver medal in 2010 narrowly falling to the Canadians. Despite playing behind a horrible defence system he still manages to steal games for the Sabres- hence the win against the Islanders despite being outshot 43-15. His play in 2010 alone should be enough to at least land Miller the backup job.
3rd String: Jimmy Howard
Howard is a solid netminder that can be called upon in a pinch in team USA needs him. He's still fairly young for a goaltender (28) and is the perfect age to be the 3rd string in 2014 and then move up the rankings in 2018. He's been solid between the pipes for the Red Wings the last 2 seasons and his stock will keep rising.
Honourable mentions- Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider
Anderson will be 32 at the time of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Team USA like they showed in 2010 with Miller, will want to go with younger goalies if they can get the job done. This may sound a little strange but Schneider was hand given the starting job in Vancouver and failed to take advantage of the opportunity, that may hurt his stock.
Looking for a full list of possible team USA players click here.
The Russians have always been a team primarily concerned with scoring goals, they believe that as long as they're scoring they can outscore their opponent and it doesn't matter whose in net. But that didn't work out too well for them in 2010, unfortunately Russia has always had a history of weak goaltenders and it isn't looking much better for 2014.
Starter: Ilya Bryzgalov
[caption id="attachment_2365" align="alignright" width="300"] Bryzgalov at the Winter Classic[/caption]
Yes that's right Mr. Universe will likely win the starting job for Russia by default in the 2014 Olympics. He's the most experienced netminder they have and has looked solid for the Flyers early on. As long as Russia's big guns are firing on all cylinders Bryzgalov should be able to shut the door for the Russians.
Backup: Semyon Varlamov
If Bryzgalov is too unstable to gamble on than look for Semyon Varlamov to get the starters job for Russia at the 2014 Olympics. Now with the Avalanche he's having a little trouble with goal support but is still averaging a 2.00 Goals Against Average. Behind a high scoring Russian team Varlamov would be a solid a goaltender.
3rd String: Andrei Makarov
Going a little off the board with this pick, but the Russians are so thin between the pipes they could give some serious consideration to Andrei Makarov a Buffalo Sabres prospect playing in the WHL. Makarov looked very good for Russia at the World Junior this year helping him snipe away bronze from Canada and is playing extremely well in the WHL. They're touting him to be the goaltender of the future in Buffalo and could surprise a lot of people at the 2014 Olympics.
Those are my choices between the pipes for Canada, USA and Russia ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. Each player on this list knows the spotlight is on them as they try to make final impressions ahead of the games. With the way these international tournaments have played out lately, it's usually the team with the best goaltender(s) that come out on top.
Which country has the best goalies? Any key goalies I left off the list, make your case by tweeting me @HockeyLife30!