"Goaltending is the most important position in the NHL -- period. But, it gets even more amplified in a short tournament. When you study -- whether it is a World Cup, World Championships or an Olympics -- it's usually the team that has the best goaltending that ends up (on top) when all other things are equal. The goalie makes a difference." -- Ron Wilson
-- Tim Thomas
couldn't care less about the number of goalies at the 2009 United States Olympic Men's Orientation Camp.
"It's never me competing against another guy," Thomas said Tuesday. "It's me competing against myself, anyway. It's just trying to play the best that I can."
For the record, there are three goalies at this three-day camp here at Seven Bridges Ice Arena. There is Thomas, who won this year's Vezina Trophy; Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller
, who was on the taxi squad for the 2006 Olympic team; and youngster Jonathan Quick
of the Los Angeles Kings
Although Team USA coach Ron Wilson tried to throw injured New York Islanders
goalie Rick DiPietro
into the equation, it is likely that the three men in goalie equipment this week will make the final cut. Barring unforeseen circumstances it will be a battle royal between Thomas and Miller for the starting job. Quick, just 23, almost certainly will be the taxi-squad goalie.
That's not a lot of competition for what Team USA coach Ron Wilson has called the most important position on his team.
"Goaltending is the most important position in the NHL -- period," Wilson said. "But it gets even more amplified in a short tournament. When you study -- whether it is a World Cup, World Championships or an Olympics -- it's usually the team that has the best goaltending that ends up (on top) when all other things are equal. The goalie makes a difference."
So are the Americans nervous that it is basically a two-horse race for the No. 1 job in Vancouver?
"They just wanted to keep the group small, so that is how it worked out," Thomas said.
Remember, though, the Canadians are bringing five goalies to duke it out at their camp in Calgary next week, including three -- Martin Brodeur
, Marc-Andre Fleury
and Cam Ward
--that have claimed a Stanley Cup and one -- Brodeur -- that has won Olympic gold.
Thomas won his only title while playing in Finland and hasn't advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Miller has been as far as the Eastern Conference Finals twice, but has never claimed a championship in his pro or college career.
Yet, Thomas is looking forward to the challenge. His confidence is at an all-time high right now after copping the 2009 Vezina Trophy with a 36-11-7 mark, 2.10 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
I think the goaltending position is very important in the Olympics," Thomas said. "Because it's such a short tournament, head-to-head elimination is what it boils down to and a goalie can make a huge difference."
But, it will be more than six months before Thomas finds out if he gets the starting job in Vancouver.
Both goalies said Tuesday that Wilson has not tipped his hand about what he has planned come February. Wilson, for his part, said he will alternate goalies throughout pool play and then go with the hot hand once the elimination-game phase arrives.
And with that decision almost six months away, neither goalie is stressing about what lies ahead.
"It's August and that's February," Thomas said.
"I haven't even talked to (Wilson) about it," Miller added. "Right now that's the least of my concerns. I'm focused on getting to know the guys, getting a good feel for them, getting on the ice and getting my hands ready for the season. The legs feel pretty good but the hands need to catch up. Right now I'm just taking the opportunity to be around some great shooters."
And the two goalies are taking some time to get to know each other, as well. Their paths have crossed at a few NHLPA meetings, including this spring's get-together in Las Vegas.
"I've been around (Thomas) from NHLPA things the past two summers," Miller said. "I've played against him. Tim's a great guy. If it works out that we're both playing together, I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I think we both have good attitudes and both have laid-back personalities."
Thomas agrees, saying he will have no qualms if Miller wins the starting job in Vancouver.
"Once we get to the Olympics, I don't care who is playing," Thomas said. "We just want to win."