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Howard wins Olympic team spot

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jimmy Howard fought off injuries and in-season struggles to win a spot Wednesday on the U.S. men’s hockey roster ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February.

Howard, who was born in Syracuse but grew up in Ogdensburg and played briefly for Ogdensburg Free Academy, appears to be the Americans’ third goaltender behind Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller.

He hasn’t played well and has been injured for much of the season for the Detroit Red Wings, but his body of work boosted his bid ahead of Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“From a personal standpoint being in the same division as the Wings for years I know what Jimmy can do,” said team general manager David Poile. “I think this has not been his best year, but his body of work has been fabulous.”

Howard’s Red Wings lost in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic on Wednesday prior to the U.S. team announcement and his season record dropped to 6-9-8. His goals-against average is at 2.72 with a .907 save percentage.

“November wasn’t very kind to me, then going down with a knee injury in early December and really not playing,” Howard said. “I worked my tail off and my trainers did a tremendous job of getting me back and getting me into a rhythm.”

Howard is the only Red Wings goalie to win 35 games in a season his first two years. He won 37 his first two seasons and won 35 last year.

“The big games that he has won for the Wings, especially on the road and behind in series, or what have you, I mean, I know what Jimmy Howard can do but I think the rest of our committee knows what he can do and he got a spot on the Olympic team based on his body of work,” Poile said.

The Lightning’s Bishop has the most wins (29) and the best goals-against average (1.89) among American-born No. 1 goalies in the NHL this season.

“He’s playing lights out,” Poile acknowledged. “Our decisions were tough in goal — really tough.”

So tough that Bobby Ryan, who helped the United States earn a silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver, won’t have a chance to help the Americans go for the gold. Only 10 NHL players — from all countries — have more goals than he does this season for the Ottawa Senators, but he was not selected.

“We did not pick the best 25 players,” Poile said. “We picked the best 25 players that we thought gave us a chance to compete and win the gold medal.”

And with goaltending and grit, the Americans might have some assets to help them compete with the defending champion Canadians along with the talented and extremely motivated Russians on their home soil.

In Sochi, the U.S. forwards will be: David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk and Blake Wheeler. John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Suter will be on defense for the Americans.

“There is a lot of guys that can skate well and on the bigger sheet, that’ll be huge,” van Riemsdyk said after helping Toronto beat Detroit 3-2 in a shootout at the Winter Classic.

Kessel’s sister, Amanda, was selected to the women’s team Wednesday.

Ryan was perhaps the most surprising omission on the 25-man roster. Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson, a pair of defensemen who played in the Vancouver Games, also didn’t make the cut. Ryan has 18 goals this season — trailing just two U.S.-born players — is among league leaders with 36 points and has scored at least 30 times in four previous years.

“If you’re talking about the Johnsons and if you’re talking about Bobby Ryan, they’re fabulous hockey players,” Poile said. “And if I can say this the right way, this is the first time that we’re having to make similar decisions that Canada has had to make for years.

“We’re leaving off top, top players.”

Other players who could’ve potentially been on the team, but weren’t selected include: Keith Yandle, Kyle Okposo, Cory Schneider, Brandon Saad and Dustin Byfuglien. Massena’s Zach Bogosian, a defenseman for Winnipeg, also was left off the team.

Fowler, who appears to have gotten a spot instead of Yandle, said he didn’t know he was on the team until everyone else found out during NBC’s postgame coverage of the Winter Classic.

“I didn’t get a text or a phone call or anything,” he said in a telephone interview.

Miller was named MVP of the ice hockey tournament at the Vancouver Games, but he wasn’t a lock to keep a spot because Quick, one of many players on the team who has been injured this season, has been perhaps the world’s best at stopping shots the past two seasons. Howard, Schneider, Gibson, Tim Thomas and Craig Anderson also were possible options for the selection committee.

To play to their potential, a lot of banged-up players will have to get healthy this month and stay that way through February. And if some injured players are still ailing over the next month, some snubbed standouts might get an invite to join the Americans in Russia.

“There’s going to be certain players that you’re going to give a strong message to that they were very, very close and if something was to happen, they could be on the team,” Poile said.

The U.S. will be able to put 22 players in uniform for each game, starting Feb. 13 against Slovakia.

The Americans expect to be a medal contender after they were regarded as young underdogs in 2010, when they were a goal away from knocking off the host Canadians.

The team will be led by Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. He has been at ease publicly, saying he likes the Americans’ chances to win gold for the first time since the Miracle on Ice victory in 1980.

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