The U.S. goaltending situation for the 2014 Winter Olympics is a lot cloudier than it appeared to be coming into the season. That may crack the door open for more candidates to make a push to get on the roster. One such candidate is Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, who hopes to make Team USA.
As he told reporters in Vancouver:
"Absolutely, absolutely,'' Thomas said emphatically when asked about his Olympics hopes. "Yeah, it's one of the major factors. I only got to play [part of one period] against Finland [at the 2010 Olympics]. But the whole experience was awesome. It doesn't matter if you're playing or not in the Olympics you want to be a part of it, and I'd love to be a part of it again.'' (Sun Sentinel via Sporting News)
Thomas has not hidden from his desire to be part of Team USA before. As he was on his one-year hiatus, many believed Thomas would return in hopes of making the Olympic squad. He confirmed to reporters that was among the main reasons he decided to come back.
The former Bruins netminder was not invited to Team USA's orientation camp this summer, which wasn't a surprise since he didn't play last season. Even so, the U.S. brass has maintained the goaltending position would largely be decided with how a player was playing the first few months of the season.
"We have a lot of good options,'' Team USA general manager David Poile told the Sun Sentinel. "We didn't know Timmy's situation then but he's in the program and if he's one of the best three goalies, he's going to Sochi.''
Though hobbled by injuries at different points this season, Thomas has put together a respectable 4-6-0 record on a poor Panthers team, while collecting a .908 save percentage, with a more encouraging .921 mark at even strength.
Right now, the U.S. goalie competition looks to be squarely in Ryan Miller's hands. With Jonathan Quick felled by a possibly serious groin strain and the rest of the field with the exception longshot Ben Bishop playing very average hockey, there could be a few scenarios in which Thomas makes the club.
Thomas does have a lengthy international résumé including playing in a backup role for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. He also has played in six IIHF Men's World Championships and the folks at USA Hockey are quite fond of him for that fact.
The final decision rests with Poile, however. With Miller playing well all year and Quick a likely lock assuming he's healthy, Thomas would have to find a way to beat out Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider and the surprising Bishop for the No. 3 role.
The 39-year-old Thomas is a longshot, but the U.S. goaltending pool, which looked very strong coming out of last season, isn't living up to the billing at this point. It probably will take something drastic for him to make the team, but Thomas isn't out of the hunt yet.