Howard ready to begin his Team USA audition

DETROIT – Jimmy Howard will be auditioning the first few months of the NHL season for a spot on a roster he’s dreamed of being on ever since he was a little kid.

Howard and four other goalies are in the running for three spots on the USA Olympic roster to participate in the Winter Games in February in Sochi, Russia.

“It’s going to be whoever is playing their best through November and December pretty much,” Howard said as he skated with a handful of his teammates at Joe Louis Arena preparing for training camp that begins in just over a week in Traverse City.

Two of the netminders – Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick – helped lead Team USA to the silver medal in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Corey Schneider and Craig Anderson are the other two goalies invited to camp.

“You just try to get off to a great start and maintain it and hopefully you’ll get the opportunity to go,” Howard said.

Howard along with teammates Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser took part in an orientation camp last week for Team USA.

Howard raised his game to a whole new level last year as he helped lead the Wings to 22-consecutive trip to the postseason where they nearly knocked off the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, before falling in overtime in Game 7.

He ended the regular season with a 21-13-7 record with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

“If you just go out there and take care of business for your own team you make it tough on the advisory staff,” Howard said. “Every goalie who could possibly take those three positions are top notch goalies. I think it’s going to be very tough to pick the three.”

If he’s chosen it will fulfill a lifelong dream of his.

“I remember my first time watching the Olympics was 1994,” Howard recalled. “Ray LeBlanc was playing in net. It’s always been a dream to play on the Olympic team. Getting my first taste with being part of the under-18 program and wearing my jersey every single day, you come to the realization how much of an honor and special it really is.”

Howard is no stranger to international competition for the United States.

He was in the U.S. National Development program in 2001-02. The following year he won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2002 IIHF World U-18 Championships and played in the 2012 World Championships.

The Wings rewarded Howard last season with a six-year contract extension that pays him on average nearly $5.3 million a year.

Howard, 29, was drafted by the Wings in 2003 (second round, 64th overall) and the team spent time grooming him in the minors before bringing him up when he was out of options.

In each of Howard’s first two full seasons in Detroit he recorded 37 wins, becoming the only goalie in Wings history to win at least 35 games in each of his first two seasons.

He finished second to Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers in the Calder Trophy race as the NHL’s top rookie.

“It’s just going out there and play my game,” Howard said. “I know what I’m capable of doing out there. It’s just going out there and performing for the guys.”
The Olympics aren’t the only high-profiled event Howard could be a part of this season, he’ll be the starting goalie in this year’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor when the Wings take on their new divisional rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s one of those things where you’ll be able to look back and it will be pretty neat,” Howard said. “With the Winter Classic and everything that’s built up around that, trying to get tickets for family, get that all out of the way now so when training camp starts you’re really not thinking about everything and everything is in place and you can think about playing hockey.”

A world record crowd in excess of 115,000 is expected.

The Wings and Leafs will also be featured on HBO’s “24/7” leading up to the game. The program gives a behind-the-scene look as both teams prepare for the game on New Year’s Day.

“We’ve got a lot going on, don’t we,” Howard asked with a smile. “Winter Classic and a lot of guy here are trying for Olympic spots, HBO “24-7”, it’s going to be pretty hectic.”

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