Sochi 2014 – “Starter for 10”
The 2014 Winter Olympics are less than three months away now, and for the 12 countries competing for gold in Sochi the starting netminder could make or break a nations tournament.
A teams starting netminder is key at the best of times, but in a short tournament like the Olympics a hot goaltender can propel a team to success – equally a cold one can quickly quell medal hopes.
With a little over a fortnight until each nation must name its squad, One Puck Short makes it’s predictions for all 12 starting goaltenders:
Russia – Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)
Despite some very public off ice issues, Varlamov has been sensational for the upstart Avs. New Colorado goaltending coach Francois Allaire has helped bring structure to the athletic Russian’s game, and the Samara native has posted a .924 save percentage on the way to a 15-8-1 record.
Slovakia – Jaroslav Halak (St Louis Blues)
Despite an indifferent start to the new NHL season by his standards, the 28-year old former Montreal stopper is the best Slovakia has to offer. The upside is that if Halak hits a hot streak, he is the kind of goalie who could propel a team like Slovakia in to the latter rounds, and perhaps a medal.
Slovenia – Robert Kristan (HK Nitra)
Kristan has been in fine form for HK Nitra in the Slovakian league so far this season, posting a .930 save percentage in 22 games. The talent pool isn’t particularly deep for the tiny nation, but the 30-year old will hope to stem the tide against Slovenia’s larger group rivals.
United States – Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres)
Perhaps the closest battle of all at the moment. Los Angeles Jonathan Quick has been expected to start for Team USA for most of the last few years. But with Quick still recovering from a groin injury (though he is skating), and neither Craig Anderson nor Corey Schneider able to stake a solid claim, veteran Miller might just be the go to guy for the US.
On a terrible Buffalo team, Miller has still posted a .921 save percentage and almost backstopped Team USA to gold in 2010. Form plus experience could count for a lot when it comes to making one of the most important decisions on a talented US roster.
Austria – Bernhard Starkbaum (Brynäs)
27-year old Starkbaum was the starter for Austria at the 2013 World Championships. Although they were relegated to Division 1, Starkbaum seems likely to get the starting nod in Sochi.
Canada – Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
Roberto Luongo probably started the season in the drivers seat, and whilst the Canucks stopper has been good (sometimes great), Price has been simply brilliant for most of the season. The Canadiens are battling it out with Bruins for top spot in the Atlantic, and Price (along with PK Subban) is a big reason why.
Finland – Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)
Finland has an embarrassment of riches between the pipes; and whilst you could make a strong case for Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen, Rask has been outstanding for Boston and looks set to get the nod in Russia.
Norway – Lars Haugen (Dinamo Minsk)
Despite currently being out through injury, Haugen’s expected return in January will likely see him hold on to the Norwegian starting role, fending off 21-year old Blues (that’s the Finnish club, not St Louis) Lars Volden.
Czech Republic – Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets)
With Tomas Vokoun sidelined indefinitely due to a blood cot, Jets’ Pavelec may get the job by default. Nashville’s Marek Mazanec has made a strong start to his NHL career, while Petr Mrazek is starting to see a little ice with the Red Wings; but there are few options with top flight experience for the Czech’s. Pavelec is arguably the best available.
Latvia – Kristers Gudlevskis (Florida Everblades)
With little expected from Latvia at Sochi, 21-year old Gudlevskis could get the nod following an impressive showing at the 2013 World Championships.
Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)
Is there really any other option? Forget the sluggish start to the new season, King Henrik will be the Swedes starter in Sochi. One of, if not the best goaltenders in the world; with ‘Hank’ in goal, and a stacked defensive corps, the Swedes have a good chance of repeating their 2006 success.
Switzerland – Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks)
Veteran Hiller’s future in Anaheim may be somewhat clouded, but he is the clear number 1 for Switzerland heading in to Sochi. The 31-year old will be under pressure from Reto Berra, but for a dark horse like Switzerland a veteran head is key.