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Jimmy Howard excited to play for Team USA in men's world championships

Goaltender hopes to finish year on a high note after injury-plagued season

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - All in all, it was a frustrating season for Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard.

So it's understandable that Howard would want to try to end his hockey year on a positive note by playing for Team USA in the IIHF men's world championship.

Before taking the job as Team USA's head coach, Wings coach Jeff Blashill called USA Hockey to recommend that they take Howard.

Howard, 33, spoke at Joe Louis Arena on the day the players cleaned out their lockers about heading to Milan, Italy and Cologne, Germany for the men's world championship.

"I'm going to continue to keep playing," Howard said. "I think that's important for me, especially because I missed a good chunk of the season being out with the injury. I'm looking forward to to it."

Howard played in just 26 games because of two separate injuries.

The first was when Howard hurt his groin in New Jersey on Nov. 25 and missed six games.

The far worse injury took place on Dec. 20 in Tampa Bay when a collision in the crease ended up with Howard suffering a knee injury. That kept Howard out 32 games from Dec. 23- March 10.

"I think any player in the NHL, you don't want to be done playing at this time of year, you want to keep playing," Blashill said. "If you're out of the playoffs or get knocked out of the playoffs, you don't want to get used to being done this early. I would encourage any player really to keep playing. But certainly for him, having missed a large part of the year, this gives him a chance to get more games under his belt. Again, I thought he had an excellent year, he played excellent through most of the year. Now he gets a chance to continue to build on that and build for next season."

When healthy, Howard was putting up some of the best numbers of his career, including a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

"That's all great but at the end of the day you still want to be playing at this time of the year," Howard said. "I wish I could have been out there for the guys for a couple more games.

"This is the time of year when it's the most fun, being out there and having that electricity from the fans like we had (at the last game at the Joe). That's what every playoff game is like and it makes for exciting hockey."

Howard seemed to adjust well to having a new goaltending coach for the first time in his career as Jeff Salajko replaced longtime goalie coach Jim Bedard.

"Actually, they're both pretty similar in style," Howard said. "Jeff learned under Jim for a very long time. There was a relationship there already when Jeff got here. A couple of little new stuff that we were able to learn this year was obviously great for my game."

Howard was 14-14-0-5 with a 2.80 goals against average and .906 save percentage in 37 games during the 2015-16 season and he was determined to be significantly better this year.

"It's just hard work," Howard said. "It's not reinventing the wheel or anything. It was just putting in the time over the course of the summer and tweaking my game a little bit, and it paid off."

Howard thought there was a chance last offseason that he could be traded, despite a large cap hit of $5,291,667.

"Last year was kind of up in the air," Howard said. "I didn't know how everything was going to play out. I was so happy to be able to come back here for the last season at the Joe. I'm still thrilled to be part of this organization."

Although the Wings did not trade Howard, that doesn't mean a move won't be made this offseason, especially with the Las Vegas Golden Knights choosing players in the expansion draft.

"I haven's spoken to anybody about it. It is a business," Howard said. "Whatever they decide, that's what they decide. It's pretty much out of your control. I haven't thought about it because you don't want to stress yourself out."

Howard will now just focus on the world championship.

In Tuesday's exhibition in Milan, Italy against Team Italy, Howard split duties with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, a Commerce, Mich. native. Howard allowed one goal on 10 shots in 31:38.

Blashill hadn't decided on a starter before he left for Europe.

"Certainly the work both guys have done, and we've got three, but that both NHL goalies have done up until now is a factor," Blashill said. "Jimmy has had a real good NHL career so far. He played great hockey this year, with the exception of being injured. Connor hasn't played as long in the NHL but has had some success and also had some success in the World Cup. It's a long tournament. We play lots of games in a little amount of days. Both guys will have an impact on our success and will make decisions as we move forward, obviously in training camp, on who's the starter."

The third goaltender is Cal Petersen of Notre Dame.

Whether he starts or to, like teammates Dylan Larkin and Danny DeKeyser, Howard is hoping to use the tournament to propel him to a successful summer and healthy next season.

"You can always learn," Howard said. "It doesn't matter how old you are or how many years you've played in the NHL. You can still grow as a player and grow as an individual out there. For me, over the course of this summer it's just continue to work and to fine tune all of the new moves I've learned over the last couple of years and try to keep building on this year."

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