Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick is the early favourite to start for the United States in Sochi. (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick is the early favourite to start for the United States in Sochi. (InGoal Photo by Clint Trahan)

There were several notable absences, a couple of surprises, and no shortage of debates among the goaltending community when five countries revealed their orientation camp rosters for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The most attention-grabbing, if not most surprising, omissions included Martin Brodeur being left off the list of five goaltenders invited to Team Canada’s camp in the fall, especially given his new “backup” in New Jersey, Cory Schneider, was included on a tougher-to-crack American list, and Ilya Bryzgalov not being included among the five goalies named by Russia.

Finland showed off its impressive goaltending depth by inviting eight puck stoppers to its orientation camp. The United States will bring six stoppers, including international stage standout John Gibson, who has yet to play a game in the NHL but has medals from both the World Junior and World Championships this year. And the rising Swedes only bothered to name four candidates for three spots.

Less headline worthy, but no less interesting, was the lack of any goaltending coach among the staffs named. That includes Team Canada, which did not have one officially on staff while winning the gold medal at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, but did turn to current Columbus Blue Jackets goalie guru Ian Clark for scouting reports on opposing netminders midway through the tournament. Given the degree to which a goaltending coach can break down other goalies, the positional adjustments to the bigger ice surface this time, and the potential importance of shootouts in the Olympics, it’s a bit surprising not to see a goalie coach involved, especially when so many of them not only pre-scout the other goalie, but actually choose their own team’s shooters, in NHL shootouts now.

USA Hockey confirmed there will be no goalie coach in an official capacity, and wasn’t one in 2010. But an official from Hockey Canada noted in an email Tuesday morning they may well have a goalie coaching voice in the ongoing evaluation and selection process, adding the “management group will talk and keep in touch with a lot of people” in a “less official capacity.”

The names of the goaltenders may also change with time, especially if any of those already named stumble out of the gates early this season while others not yet on any official list play their way into consideration.

With that in mind, lets take a look at the goalies that made the list so far, starting with the defending champions. (None of the official releases put them in order, but in the interest of further sparking the above-mentioned debate, InGoal has sorted them in our possible pecking order. Feel free to pick it apart in the comments section):

Roberto Luongo won gold in 2010, but despite technical improvements since gets questioned by many as the default No.1 for 2014. (InGoal photo by David Hutchinson)

Roberto Luongo won gold in 2010, but despite technical improvements since gets questioned by many as the default No.1 for 2014. (InGoal photo by David Hutchinson)

Canada

1. Roberto Luongo

2. Carey Price

3. Mike Smith

4. Braden Holtby

5. Corey Crawford

Canada’s braintrust has already indicated the final selections and pecking order will be determined in large part by how each goalie starts the season, and coach Mike Babcock, who won gold after Luongo took over for Brodeur in 2010, talked about the latter’s return to Vancouver as the No.1 as a positive for his candidacy to do the same for Canada. Price needs to start this season the same way he did the last, and avoid any continuation of his late struggles, while Smith’s chances were bolstered by a strong, though ultimately medal-less, showing at the recent World Championships in Sweden that may have proved his conservative, inside-out approach to positioning can work on the bigger ice. Brodeur, Carolina’s Cam Ward and maybe even Edmonton’s Devan Dubnyk, who has fared well in past international competition on the bigger ice, could conceivably all play their way onto the team.

Jimmy Howard Detroit

Detroit’s Jimmy Howard has backed off a bit, but remains one of the more aggressive goaltenders in the NHL in terms of initial depth. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

United States of America

1. Jonathan Quick

2. Jimmy Howard

3. Cory Schneider

4. Ryan Miller

5. Craig Anderson

6. John Gibson

The Americans have the toughest choices this side of Finland, with the top-5 all among the NHL’s best goalies and capable of improving on a silver-medal finish in 2010, and Gibson a wild card with a lot of success on the larger ice and big-pressure international competition over the last year. Miller was brilliant in 2010, but Schneider got the edge here in large part because he plays a more neutral style, and Miller, Quick and Howard all tend towards more aggressive initial positioning. Whether or not the similarities between Howard and Quick lead to the selection of one at the expense of the other is just one of many interesting decisions facing the United States, which could instead go with a nice balance of aggressive, neutral and experience in Quick, Schneider and – assuming he has a bounce back start to his NHL season in Buffalo – Miller.

Pekka Rinne is one of the best in the game, but struggled with the style of play in the KHL during the NHL lockout. (InGoal photo by Kevin Woodley)

Pekka Rinne is one of the best in the game, but struggled with the style of play in the KHL during the NHL lockout. (InGoal photo by Kevin Woodley)

Finland

1. Tuukka Rask

2. Antti Niemi

3. Pekka Rinne

4. Kari Lehtonen

5. Niklas Backstrom

6. Antti Raanta

7. Karri Ramo

8. Petri Vehanen

Talk about an embarrassment of riches, the Finns could choose any of their top-5 candidates and no one would bat an eye – and that’s probably not fair to the lesser-known goalies at the bottom of the list, including Raanta, who is headed to the Chicago Blackhawks this season, and Ramo, who was one of the KHL’s top goalies the last few years and comfortable on the bigger ice, but may lose some of that edge coming over to play for the Calgary Flames this season. Among the top-4, Rinne’s low ranking here is mostly because of offseason hip surgery that required drilling holes in the bone of his socket to try and stimulate cartilage re-growth. Rinne also struggled in the KHL, telling InGoal the style of play was nothing like the NHL from a goaltender’s perspective and he’d never go back, but that was more about how they played than adjusting to the bigger ice. Niemi is an underrated star coming off a Vezina Trophy nomination, Rask was just in the Stanley Cup Final, Lehtonen can be among the game’s best when healthy, especially while being outplayed, and Backstrom has more experience than any of them.

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning season. (InGoal photo by Clint Trahan)

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning season. (InGoal photo by Clint Trahan)

Russia

1. Sergei Bobrovsky

2. Semyon Varlamov

3. Evgeni Nabokov

4. Vasily Koshechkin

5. Konstantin Barulin

There will be no shortage of drama surrounding the hosts, who face incredible pressure after failing so miserably at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Nabokov, who was part of that drubbing, gets the No.3 spot on this list in large part because we admittedly know little about the two names below him, but playing in the KHL and on the bigger ice may be seen as an advantage by the Russian brass that selects this team. As for story lines, there should be no shortage given Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy last season, balked at playing for Russia at the recent World Championships because Ilya Bryzgalov was promised the starting role. Now it’s Bryzgalov, recently bought out by Philadelphia and looking for work, who is on the outside looking in at Bobrovksy, his former backup with the Flyers. Things could get especially interesting should Bryzgalov take a job in the KHL and excel early in the season, though it’s perhaps worth noting that he, like Rinne, struggled to make that adjustment during the NHL lockout last season.

Lundqvist won gold at the 2006 Winter Games, and has been one of, if not the NHL's best goalie since. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

Lundqvist won gold at the 2006 Winter Games, and has been one of, if not the NHL’s best goalie since. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

Sweden

1. Henrik Lundqvist

2. Jhonas Enroth

3. Viktor Fasth

4. Robin Lehner

It’s hard to argue anyone but Lundqvist is the starting goalie, especially since he won the last Olympic gold medal on big ice at the 2006 Winter Game in Turin, Italy, and has been one of – if not the – best goaltenders in the NHL ever since arriving. Fasth is coming off an impressive rookie season with the Anaheim Ducks and was a big part of a silver medal win at the 2011 World Championships, but that was trumped by the gold medal backstopped by Enroth in Sweden this spring, which should all but assure him a spot on this team at the 2014 Olympics. Interestingly, however, Lehner may be the most skilled Swede this side of Lundqvist, and should he get a chance to prove it more as an NHL regular behind Anderson in Ottawa this season, there may be a tough decision ahead.

~Look for more roster breakdowns at InGoal as they are announced, and hopefully an answer to another big question at the Olympics: if the NHL cracks down on goalie equipment, as InGoal already reported this week, will guys go back to the bigger gear in Sochi.

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2 Responses to Surprise Names, Omissions Among Olympic Goalies

  1. Paddy says:

    Luongo????????????????????????

  2. Dezi Wright says:

    I’m just wondering why no one has pointed out yet that their star player Sid Crosby is going to have a difficult time flying to Russia without Marc-Andre sitting next to him on the plane. I’m not even sure he’ll get on a plane with Marc-Andre by his side. Maybe snubbing Fleury wasn’t the best thing to do if he’s a requirement to safely get your star player on a 19 hour plane flying over the ocean. Maybe he could convince fellow Team Canada Star Claude Giroux to sit next to him. No wait, there was that whole “I HATE THEM — EVRERY ONE OF THEM” quote from the cover of last year’s daily news. I can’t imagine that’s going to get him a new seat-buddy to sleep next to him on the plane.

    With Giroux and Crosby going up against their respective coaches for the battle of North America. I wasn’t sure if NBC would be able to sell this as a ‘rivalry’ without bringing one of the NHL’s longest running soap operas to the Team USA vs Team Canada mix. I call Luongo for the Team Canada start and Cory Schneider for the Team USA start. Using TV ratings as the entire basis for my determination.

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