He played college hockey for the University of Massachusetts, and in the dorms, whenever Jonathan Quick and his roommates turned on television, there wasn’t a lot of viewing options.
“But one channel we did get was NESN,” said Quick, the all-star goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings, “and it was right when Tim Thomas just came into the league. So I watched him quite a bit and what sticks out mostly about his game is that it’s a little unorthodox. He doesn’t play similar to many goalies in the league, but one thing he does better than probably anybody is the way he competes to stop the pucks, the way he fights to see pucks and how he finds a way to get in front of them.”
So if there is a little bit of Thomas in Quick’s emerging game, well, he comes by it honestly. The Boston Bruins veteran is the reigning Vézina Trophy winner, the most valuable player of last year’s Stanley Cup final and, politics aside, the starting goaltender in this weekend’s NHL all-star game in Ottawa. Thomas is also at the forefront of a quiet but discernible trend in the United States: the development of high-end goaltenders.
Three of the six goalies chosen to play in the 2012 NHL all-star game are American-born: Thomas (Flint, Mich.), Quick (Milford, Conn.) and Jimmy Howard (Syracuse, N.Y.) of the Detroit Red Wings.
U.S. manufacturing may be having a tough time of it elsewhere, but the U.S. goaltending factory is churning them out almost as fast as the world leaders, Finland.
Consider that this year, Thomas, Quick and Howard are in the top 10 in all four major goaltending categories – goals-against average, wins, save percentage and shutouts, with Howard tops in wins and Quick first in shutouts.
Craig Anderson (Park Ridge, Ill.) of the Ottawa Senators is tied for third in wins; the Cory Schneider (Marblehead, Mass.) of the Vancouver Canucks is sixth in save percentage and a rising star; Ryan Miller (East Lansing, Mich.) of the Buffalo Sabres was the men’s MVP of the 2010 Winter Olympics, won the 2010 Vézina Trophy and is a perennial all-star having an off-season.
There are others who’ve had NHL successes before injuries set them back (Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro, for example); and there are some good ones coming in (Jack Campbell and John Gibson, who were most recently seen with the U.S. world junior team).
Quick’s teammate in Los Angeles, defenceman Jack Johnson, says the crease is one area where his country approaches Canada in terms of overall depth.
“You think of the last Olympics, Thomas and Miller and Quick,” Johnson said. “I thought all three were awesome goalies. A lot of people talk about the depth of the American hockey team when you put together an Olympic team and there’s not the kind of players you have with Team Canada, where you have about 60. But it’s different in goal. I wish I had a good answer as to why, but it’s a nice luxury to have.”
What sets Quick and Thomas apart from most goaltenders is that neither is a true butterfly-style player. Rather, they play a hybrid style, closer to the old-school stand-up approach than to the modern drop-and-drape that secures the bottom of the net but leaves the top corners open. Quick says he plays the way he does because in college, the emphasis was less on technique and more on competing and battling.
“If you look at some of the top goalies now – and I think you have to look at Thomas first – that’s something that he does really well, he competes well and never gives up on a puck,” Quick said. “Then, when I came to this organization, I’ve been working with [former goalies]Billy Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh, and they brought the technical part into my game. It’s something that’s helped me out tremendously.”
According to Anderson, many of the U.S. goaltenders – Quick excepted – fell into the late-bloomer category, players who waited a long time before somebody gave them a chance to be a starter in the NHL.
“For me, it was just finding a good fit,” Anderson said. “I had some success in Colorado by getting an opportunity to play a string of games. I never had the opportunity before.
“Obviously, Quick came into an L.A. situation where they were young and they said, ‘Here you go, here’s the ball, run with it.’ And he took off with it. Obviously, Thomas was one of the better goalies in Europe and came back and got the opportunity with Boston and he’s run with it. It’s guys making the most of their opportunities,” he said. “Opportunistic Americans, I guess.”
Many of the top goaltenders in recent NHL history, including six-time Vézina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek, could charitably be called unorthodox. Their mantra and main goal: stop the puck, no matter how. It is a lesson Quick absorbed. He knows how much momentum can switch in a game from a big save.
“You’re playing a position where you don’t move outside a five-foot radius, so you don’t have too much control over a lot of areas of the game,” Quick said, “but when the puck does get shot at you, you have complete control over that, and that’s something where your teammates can feed off the energy that you could bring to the game. You making a save that you shouldn’t make, whatever it is, I think it helps them out.”
As for playing in the 2012 all-star game, where he is the only Kings representative, Quick says he is looking forward to the experience.
“I’ve never taken part in an all-star game at any level. I’ve been selected as an end-of-the-year all-star, but never in a game or an event or anything like that,” he said. “So it’s something I’m looking forward to doing. It should be a great time.”
THEY SAID IT …
“I wasn’t going on a beach vacation or anything like that. I was going to some cold weather anyway. Why not make it a little colder?”
The St. Louis Blues goaltender makes a surprise return to Ottawa as an NHL all-star, after going 13-19-8 with the Senators a year ago. Elliott had a 3.12 goals-against average for the Sens last season; in 2011-12, his 1.69 GAA leads the league
“You never know what’s going on in his head now. Obviously, he’s upset because [his NHL suspension is]three games. But that’s his decision and he’s a grown man and he decided to take a couple of days off and get ready for the second half instead.”
The New Jersey Devils winger and fellow Russian is apparently as mystified as others as to what goes on in Alex Ovechkin’s head, after the Washington Capitals winger’s decision to bypass the 2012 NHL all-star game.
BY THE NUMBERS
Consecutive games played by Detroit Red Wings blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom before missing last Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens with the flu.
Consecutive all-star appearances by Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who was on the winning side in 2008, 2009 and 2011. (The NHL did not hold an all-star game in 2010, because of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.)
TWEET OF THE WEEK
“Classless move by @Ovi8 ‘opting’ out of NHL all-star game.”
St. Louis Blues forward Andy McDonald (@10_AMac) doesn’t think much of Alex Ovechkin’s decision to skip the weekend’s all-star festivities, essentially because he was suspended three games for a hit to the head on Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Zbynek Michalek.