Jonathan Quick is the winner. Ryan Miller is the backup.
How did this happen? Well, I guess I should have known last week. Allow me to tell a quick story.
The Penguins played in Buffalo last Wednesday. Before the game, a large number of Buffalo reporters circled around Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who is the man in charge of Team USA. It immediately became evident that the Buffalo reporters were convinced that Miller was the clear choice to start for Team USA. Question after question followed about Miller’s brilliance four years earlier in Vancouver. It was as though Quick didn’t exist. Some reporters even mentioned the fact that Bylsma’s Penguins chased Quick in the first period against the Kings a week earlier.
Surely, it was Miller’s job.
No, it wasn’t. And I should have known then, for two reasons.
I had the opportunity to speak with Bylsma after the Buffalo reporters had touted Miller the clear starter. To put it lightly, Bylsma appeared completely miffed that reporters would be so dismissive of Quick, a former Stanley Cup winner and widely considered one of hockey’s finest goalies. I joked that I should show up at that evening’s game wearing a Quick jersey. Bylsma seemed to be amused by this. At that moment, it was pretty clear that Bylsma, at the very least, wasn’t sold on Miller being his starter. I strongly believe Quick was the choice when the NHL season began, though Miller’s outstanding play and Quick’s trouble with injuries may have evened things.
Later that night, I witnessed more compelling evidence that Miller wasn’t going to be the guy. I just didn’t realize it at the time, but now, it makes sense.
After the Penguins handled Miller and the Sabres, 5-1, I wrote my game story from the media lounge, which happens to be located near the Sabres and Penguins locker rooms. After writing my article, I left the lounge in an attempt to visit the bathroom. However, as I opened the door to walk across the hallway, I ran into Bylsma and Miller. The two were have a conversation, and it looked serious. Very serious. I didn’t want to eavesdrop – OK, actually I did want to, but I didn’t want to be a jerk – so, instead of walking past them, I simply executed a U-turn and sat in the media lounge for around five minutes. Two of the most important figures in American hockey were having a serious conversation, and I didn’t feel like my intrusion was appropriate.
After a good five minutes, I figured the conversation was over. It’s not like they wouldn’t be seeing each other in Sochi in a couple of days anyway, and the Penguins team bus had already been prepared to depart. Assuming the coast was clear, I again departed the media lounge. And again, as I walked around the corner, I encountered Bylsma and Miller, deep in conversation.
At the time, I may have misinterpreted what was going on. I’m a big fan of Miller’s work, and sensed for weeks that perhaps he would be the American starter. But seeing Bylsma so miffed by the assumption that Miller was the clear choice over Quick made me wonder. Looking back, I suspect Bylsma may have delivered some news to Miller that he didn’t want to hear. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe Miller wasn’t informed that Quick would be the starter until he arrived in Sochi. But I’m starting to begin otherwise.
It gives you an appreciation for how difficult the Olympics are for players, coaches and general managers. I assure you Bylsma possesses enormous respect for Miller. But Quick is clearly his choice.
I wish I knew what was said in that conversation. I suspect it was pretty compelling stuff. Next time, I’ll eavesdrop.
Hope you’re all enjoying the Olympic hockey so far. Great stuff.