SOCHI, Russia -- The Olympic prospects of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick appeared to be in jeopardy when he strained a groin muscle during overtime of a game at Buffalo on Nov. 12 and was forced to miss more than a month of the NHL season.
Exactly three months later, Quick was designated the starter for the U.S. Olympic team in its Winter Games tournament opener against Slovakia on Thursday at Shayba Arena.
Coach Dan Bylsma told Quick of his decision before the team practiced Wednesday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome practice rink, and Bylsma told the media after the session. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who was the U.S. starter four years ago at the Vancouver Games and was in net for Team USA’s overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game, is expected to be Quick’s backup. Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is the No. 3 goalie.
Quick was the No. 3 U.S. goalie at Vancouver. He dressed as the backup for one game but didn’t get any playing time.
In keeping with his even-keel demeanor, Quick took the news calmly.
“We’ve got three great goalies on this team,” Quick said. “Every one of us wants to play and wants to give this team a chance to win. I’m fortunate for the opportunity, and you just try to make the most of it.”
Quick credited his Kings teammates for playing well in front of him and helping him become a better player.
“There’s a lot of hard work put into it. I think the biggest thing is being able to play with guys back in L.A.,” he said. “The guys that I play with, this says a lot about them. When you play with great players they put you in a position and give you opportunities like this. So you’re thankful for that.
“And obviously, we’ve got a great group of guys here and you just try to win one game at a time, and that’s the focus.”
Team USA executives had seemed to lean toward Quick since last summer, when he was among the goalies invited to an orientation camp. However, Quick’s injury-induced absence and Miller’s excellence with a bad Sabres team seemed to put the choice in flux. Quick returned to the Kings’ lineup on Jan. 4.
Bylsma wouldn’t identify his starter beyond the first preliminary-round game. He said he had based his decision on Quick’s body of work, including a stellar performance during the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run.
This season, Quick ranks ninth in the NHL with a 2.18 goals-against average and ranks 31st in save percentage at .911. He has faced an average of 23.9 shots a game, a figure kept low by the strong team defensive play.
Miller’s goals-against average of 2.74 ranks 31st in the NHL but his .923 save percentage ranks 12th and is especially impressive because he has faced an average of nearly 32.5 shots a game.
Quick is an aggressive goaltender who likes to come out of his crease, and he might have to modify that habit on the wider international ice surface.
“Certain situations you play the same, certain you have to adjust a little bit,” he said. “I’ve practiced the last few games so you get used to it. I’m looking forward to [Thursday’s] game, trying to win a game.”
Kings teammate Dustin Brown, one of Team USA’s alternate captains, said the selection of Quick to start Thursday’s game was a tribute to the goalie’s accomplishments.
“I’m happy for him as a teammate. I think he’s played well enough since the last Olympics to earn the spot,” Brown said. “That’s probably the strong point of our team, if you look at the three goaltenders we have.”