You can’t tell the players without a program! For some countries competing in the Olympic hockey tournament this will quite literally be true. So here it is, your viewing guide to Olympic goalies, 2010 edition. Listed by groups because, let’s face it, once group play is done you won’t hear about some of these teams/players for another four years.
Canada: It is often said that Canada could send a “B” team to the Olympics and have it compete for a medal. That would certainly be true from a goaltending perspective as the talent pool is deep. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey NHL) is having a record breaking season and has his Devils on top of the standings, so given his past Olympic credentials and success it’s almost impossible to put anyone else in the number one spot. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver NHL) and Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh NHL) should both get a chance to play a round-robin game but one of them would have to steal a win and Brodeur would have to play horribly to see anyone but Marty starting the quarter-final match.
USA: With the way Ryan Miller (Buffalo NHL) has played this season he would actually be a threat to Brodeur’s #1 status on Team Canada if he’d been born north of the 49th. Instead the Michigan native will lead a transitional US team in hope of an upset or two. Despite the eighth worst offense in the league the Sabres sit first in their division, a testament to Miller’s ability to make a one goal lead stand up. Last year’s Vezina winner Tim Thomas (Boston NHL) went into the season as co-number one for the US but since then he and Miller have moved in opposite directions. After the first month of the NHL season many thought the third American goalie would be Craig Andersen but the Kings are contending for a playoff spot because of the consistently solid play of Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles NHL). He probably won’t see ice time but it should be an experience that lifts his play even more down the playoff stretch.
Switzerland: Unlike the goalie battle going on with the Ducks, Jonas Hiller (Anaheim NHL) is the undisputed starter for the Swiss. Martin Gerber (Atlant KHL) played the game of his life in shutting out Canada in Torino but despite recently suffering a neck injury he will probably be the backup ahead of Tobias Stephan (Geneva Swiss League) who spent the last two seasons in the Dallas Stars organization.
Norway: Pal Grotnes (Stjernen Norway) has been Norway’s starting goalie for the past five seasons and once made 50 saves against Canada in the 2008 World Championships as the Norwegians scored a moral victory by limiting Canada to a 2-1 win. Either Andre Lysenstoen (HeKi Finnish 2nd Division) or Ruben Smith (Storhamer Norway) might get into a game if Grotnes has faced too much rubber but Norway’s hopes of avoiding last place clearly lie with their starter.
Russia: Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix NHL) was the third Russian goalie for the 2002 Olympics, the backup in Torino and is currently the co-favorite to be the starter in Vancouver. Look for him and Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose NHL) to split time during the round robin and whoever has the hotter hand will start the quarter final game. Semyon Varlamov (Washington NHL) was a long shot to even make the team ahead of veteran Nikolai Khabibuilin so don’t expect to see him play, especially since he’ll just be returning from a lower body injury that required a rehab stint in the minors.
Czech Republic: Despite some crazy stories that Dominik Hasek was coming out of retirement to play in the Olympics the starting job is clearly Tomas Vokun’s (Florida NHL) to lose. Ondrej Pavelec (Atlanta NHL) has had a surprisingly good season so far with the Thrashers and could hang in there against the Latvians or Slovaks but if the Czechs have any hopes at a medal they’ll need Vokun to stand on his head. Jakub Stepanek (Vitkovice Czech League) is their third goalie.
Slovakia: At the start of the season there was some debate as to whether Jaroslav Halak (Montreal NHL) or Peter Budaj (Colorado NHL) would step up to grab the starting position for the Slovaks but Halak’s play in Montreal quickly ended any discussion about who was #1. Budaj has more international experience but the Olympics can’t possibly be any more pressure-inducing than what Halak faces in Montreal. Rastisla Stana (Cherepovets KHL) is Slovakia’s third goalie.
Latvia: One thing the Latvians have going for them is the best group of fans in the world. Another is Edgars Masalskis (Dinamo Riga KHL) who stood on his head during the 2009 World Championships, beating the higher ranked Swiss team. If the boisterous Latvian fans can’t pull them through or Masalskis falls short on the heroics scale either Ervins Mustukovs (Dinamo Riga KHL) or Sergejs Naumovs (Dinamo Riga KHL) will be thrown to the wolves Russians and Czechs.
Sweden: Henrik Lundqvist (NYR NHL) led the Swedes to a gold medal in Torino and has the ability to win games by himself. In a short tournament that might be enough to give Sweden a chance to defend its gold. Jonas Gustavsson (Toronto NHL) has overcome two separate heart incidents this year but has also managed to put the Leafs back in sight of the playoffs. He’ll probably against Germany or Belarus in the round-robin so Lundqvist is rested for the playoff matches. Stefan Liv (HV 71 Swedish Elite) played one game in Torino as Lundqvist’s backup but will probably be in the press box for Vancouver.
Finland: After rejecting invitations to the 2002 and 2006 Olympics Mikka Kiprusoff (Calgary NHL) stated earlier in the season that he’d only play in Vancouver if he was Finland’s starter. This led to speculation that he might be passed over for the sake of team unity, but he’s having a spectacular season to-date so it was impossible to leave him off the roster. Now we’ll just have to wait to see how the Finns split time between Kipper and Nicklas Backstrom (Minnesota NHL) during the round-robin. Whoever holds the hot hand will be playing in the quarter-finals. Many observers expected Pekka Rinne to be the third Finnish goalie but Antero Niittymäki (Tampa Bay NHL) backstopped the Finns to a silver medal in Torino and was also named MVP of the tournament so he has certainly earned his ticket to Vancouver.
Belarus: Andrei Mezin (Dynamo Minsk KHL) was in net for the Belarussians in the 2002 Olympics when they beat Sweden in the quarter-finals, a game long remembered as the “Tommy Salo” game. Vitali Koval (Dynamo Minsk KHL) and Maxim Malyutin (Vitebsk Belarus) are the other two goalies for Belarus.
Germany: After years decades entrenched as the #1 German goalie Olaf Kolzig has retired and the torch falls to a new set of hands. Thomas Greiss (San Jose NHL), the only German goalie currently in the NHL should be the starter ahead of Dimitri Patzold (ERC Ingolstadt). Greiss played one game in the Torino games, holding Canada to just five goals on 40 shots. Today he has Patzold’s old job of backing up Evgeni Nabokov for the Sharks so that alone should put him ahead on the German depth chart. Dennis Endras (Augsburger Panther), ,