DETROIT – Jimmy Howard’s no stranger to international competition.
In fact, the Syracuse, New York, native has represented Team USA in numerous tournaments throughout Europe and Russia. However, if given the chance to compete in the Sochi Olympics, it’ll send the Red Wings’ goaltender into another stratosphere.
Howard, along with Red Wings’ teammates Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser, has been invited to USA Hockey’s national team orientation camp in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 26-27.
“This is what you dream about when you’re a kid, of possibly partaking in the Olympics,” said Howard in a phone interview on Monday. “It just brings me one step closer. I have to put everything together in the first half of the year, not only for the Wings, but it will also give me a shot at playing in the Olympics.”
The 48 players invited to next month’s camp will not be on the ice. Auditions for the Olympics will come at the beginning of the upcoming NHL season when USA coach and Michigan native Dan Bylsma and his staff make their evaluations and decide on which players will make the roster that will be taken to Russia in February.
The 29-year-old Howard has represented the U.S. in three World Championship tournaments. He also spent three seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.
Howard led all goalies with a 1.33 goals-against and .954 save percentage as the U.S. won gold in the U18 World Championships in Slovakia in 2002. Howard, Justin Faulk and Paul Stastny were named the three best Team USA players in the 2012 World Championships. Howard also competed in the U20 World Championships in 2003.
While he has proudly worn the red, white and blue in the past, Howard understands that the competition for the three goaltending spots on the Olympic roster will stiff.
“The competition will begin on Oct. 1 when the season starts,” Howard said. “And you better get off running because for me there are a lot of good, young, U.S. goalies with Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, Ben Bishop, there’s quite a list of guys. If you want to go and play in Sochi you better be focused from the beginning because it’s going to be a battle for those three positions.”
Howard has never taken his patriotism lightly. He first competed internationally for the U.S. following 9/11, which inspired him to include the words “Let’s Roll!” on the back of his goalie mask. So, just the chance of bringing an Olympic gold back home excites him.
“Every single time you get the chance to partake in an event where you get to put on the U.S. jersey it almost sends chills down my spine,” he said. “I know a year ago when I went and played in the World Championship I can’t remember previous to that when I was so nervous for a hockey game. Maybe my first NHL game or first Stanley Cup playoff game. I was actually pretty nervous because when you put on that jersey you’re not just representing an organization you’re representing the whole country.”
Abdelkader, 26, has represented the U.S. twice. He has produced a goal and five assists in the U20 World Championships in 2007 and the World Championships in 2012. Meanwhile, the invite is the first of its kind for the 23-year-old DeKeyser.
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