In a best-on-best tournament like the 2014 Winter Olympics, the position of goaltender is the most important. With games turning into single-elimination heading into the medal rounds, nothing can derail the hopes of a team quicker than a shaky goaltending performance.
Let in a softie from 55 feet out and your team loses 3-2? Guess who that gaffe is on, and guess who’s going home empty-handed. The guys with the mildly unreliable goalie.
It’s a lot of pressure, but that’s the way it should be in the Olympics. It’s about mental fortitude and having the wherewithal to shake off bad goals.
Lights-out play from the netminder can propel a team to new heights. Goal scoring is important too, but having strong goaltending is essential in tournament based play. That’s why the biggest question facing Canada heading into the Winter Games is who their No. 1 netminder will be.
That’s why the Finns are expected to be incredibly competitive, and that’s why the Swiss will always have a chance against the superpower nations. Goaltending is the ultimate equalizer. Your nation can produce 12 versions of Steven Stamkos, but if the goalie is on his angles and controlling his rebounds with consistency, then winning through offensive force alone is going to be tough.
We started with a list of the top 16 goalies involved in the tournament and slashed the number down to 10. Dropping six guys might not seem all that tough, but when players like Jimmy Howard and Jaroslav Halak are on the outside looking in, it speaks volumes about the goaltending depth involved in these Winter Games.
The gap between the 10th-ranked netminder and the top dog is minuscule. In a few weeks things will look radically different because games will have been played, but heading to Sochi, these are the goalies that we think have the best chance to shine for their respective teams.