SOCHI, Russia — Jonathan Quick has played high-tension postseason games in several of the NHL’s most intimidating arenas over the last few seasons, and he came out holding the Stanley Cup above his head.
That’s why U.S. coach Dan Bylsma is confident his goalie can handle a whole different level of pressure when the Americans take on the home team in Sochi.
Quick will make his second start of the Olympics when the U.S. men’s hockey team faces Russia on Saturday in the biggest game of the tournament’s first week.
Quick made 22 saves in the Americans’ 7-1 victory over Slovakia on Thursday to win his Olympic debut. Bylsma chose him over Olympic veteran Ryan Miller on Friday to face the powerful Russian offense at Bolshoy Ice Dome, which will be packed with screaming fans for the revival of a classic hockey rivalry.
Quick reacted to the news with the same blank-faced understatement that’s well-known to Los Angeles Kings fans.
“I’m sure it’s going to be loud, and a lot of emotion in the arena, so we’re looking forward to it,” Quick said. “This is the kind of game that you want to play, that you want to be a part of, so it’s going to be fun.”
Bylsma said his decision was based on Quick’s work in the opener and his increasingly sharp play over the last month for the Kings.
“He played real well in Game 1,” Bylsma said. “I thought there were periods of inactivity in that game and he had to stay sharp, stay focused, and it was followed by two or three big saves he had to make. I thought he played real well in the game, and again in the next game he will.”
Although the winner will have a clear path to the quarterfinals in Sochi, nothing concrete will be decided when the Americans meet the Russians in the next chapter of the rivalry that’s still defined by the Miracle on Ice game in Lake Placid in 1980.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a battle for us, even with just the crowd,” center David Backes said. “There are a lot of passionate Russian fans, and we’re going to hear all of them.”
After their workout at the sparkling underground practice rink next to Bolshoy on Friday, Quick and the Americans certainly didn’t seem intimidated by the historical implications of this matchup.
After all, Olympic hockey has changed dramatically in the past 34 years. The unfamiliar menace of the Soviet Union’s Big Red Machine was rooted in sociopolitical divides that have been crossed long ago.
Alex Ovechkin, the Russians’ best player and world’s most intimidating goal-scorer, spends the other 50 weeks of the year alongside U.S. defenseman John Carlson with the Washington Capitals. Quick knows all about Russian defenseman Slava Voynov, his teammate in Los Angeles.
But the novelty of an unfamiliar rink and the iconic opponent across the way still excites the Americans.
“You forget the magnitude of the situation sometimes when this is what you do for a living, but the Olympics is something we’ve all wanted to do our whole lives,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “It’s not tough to get excited, and we just need to get focused.”
Focus has rarely been a problem for Quick, who didn’t get on the ice four years ago in Vancouver. Two years after that, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s postseason MVP.
Miller, the MVP of the 2010 Olympic tournament, is a proven performer on the international stage in the midst of a strong season in Buffalo. Bylsma didn’t say whether Miller could get a start in the third game of the preliminary round against Slovenia on Sunday before the knockout portion of the tournament begins.
Although his aggressive goaltending style sometimes isn’t ideal for the strange angles of the larger international ice, Quick is also known for a preternatural calm off the ice. That steadiness appealed to Bylsma, and it should be a major asset under the pressure Quick will face from Russia.
“He’s one of those guys who’s all business,” said Dustin Brown, his Los Angeles teammate. “He’s not one of these goalies who gets really excited when he makes a big save, and I think that translates to him off the ice as well.”