Thursday, November 5, 2009

Will it be Miller Time for Team USA in Vancouver?

Does anyone remember the 1988 Calgary Olympics, when Canada still had a National team? I recall a young Sean Burke in nets for Canada, standing on his head for the "home" team, playing well enough to earn a "professional" contract with the New Jersey Devils. Canada had not won gold in "our" sport for many years - but what was wrong with that? In 1994, Canada's juniors joined in the fun, with a young Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros heading to Lillehammer. Since 1998, it has been the big guns from the NHL trying to bring home the gold, with mixed results.

Yes, the Olympics are coming to Vancouver and as much as I would love to ignore the corporate money pit that is The Olympic Games, it is difficult to ignore one of the best hockey tournaments in the world. The Olympics, formerly known as the greatest two-weeks in amateur athletics, is now filled with professional athletes at the Summer and Winter Games, it is difficult to understand why our tax dollars are paying for this... Thank goodness, Richmond now has a Speed Skating Oval - isn't there one still in Calgary?

Here is what the Olympics are all about - the IOC dropped baseball from the Olympics because the MLB would not suspend their season to send players like Derek Jeter and A-Rod to the Games. Now Tiger Woods will get his shot at Olympic glory as Golf makes its way into the greatest two-weeks in amateur athletics.

As Canadian fans and some media members drool over the possibility of winning hockey gold in Vancouver and everyone makes their list of players that should be on the team; debating who should be the captain and who should start in goal for Team Canada, one of the teams that could spoil the fun and the party is Team USA. While the focus north of the border has been on Marty Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, the Team USA goalies are quietly leading the way statistically in the NHL and they are taking their teams to the top of the standings.

Team USA GM, Brian Burke, will have plenty of talent to choose from when he assembles his squad for the Vancouver Games. Leading the way is Buffalo Sabres net minder Ryan Miller. The East Lansing Michigan native and former Hobey Baker Award winner (NCAA) has brought his Sabres to the top of the NHL's Northeast Division.

Selected by the Sabres 138th overall in the 5th round of the 1999 draft, Miller is 9-1-1 this season with a .941 save percentage and a 2.11 Goals Against Average. He leads the league with his save percentage and is second in goals against. Miller and Colorado's Craig Anderson have two shutouts this season, second only to Coyotes net minder, Ilya Bryzgalov. Not many analysts, including this one, expected much from the Sabres this season but Miller's outstanding play has him at the top of the depth chart on Team USA.

Anderson, from Park Ridge Illinois, is a former member of the Guelph Storm in the OHL and after going through the NHL draft twice, in 1999 and 2001, he had been a backup for most of his career. This season, his Colorado Avalanche are burying the competition and are one of the top teams in the Western Conference - and the league. His 10-3-2 record places him in a tie with Nabokov and Fleury for wins, his 2.11 GAA is 5th in the league and his save percentage is a respectable .936%. If Miller and Anderson are number one and two on Team USA, all the countries in the tournament could find goals hard to find in Vancouver.

Also on the depth chart for Team USA is Boston goalie Tim Thomas (Flint Michigan) and LA's Jonathan Quick (Milford Connecticut). While Thomas' numbers are the worst of the four goalies, he is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's best goaltender and that has to be worth consideration for Team USA. His 4-6-0 record is not impressive but the Bruins have not been impressive this season. Thomas has a 2.60 GAA and a .912% on a struggling team - better numbers then Roberto Luongo and similar to Marty Brodeur's numbers in New Jersey.

In Los Angeles, Quick has emerged as a true number one goalie and coupled with the resurgence of Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth, and the NHL's point leader Anze Kopitar, Quick is off to a fast start (pardon the pun). Quick is minding the fort in front of a young defence, so his numbers are the lowest of the four but he too merits some consideration for Team USA. He has a 9-3-2 record, 2.60 GAA and .901% in 14 starts. His play is a huge part of the Kings return to respectability and if he fails to make the Olympic squad, at 23 years of age, expect him to be the go-to guy in 2014 if the NHL continues their participation in the Olympics.

All of Canada is counting down the days to Olympic glory and a gold medal for the men's hockey team but when it comes time to hit the ice and play the games, it could be Miller Time for Team USA. Have a great sports day everyone.

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