Three former University of Maine hockey stars will be playing in the winter Olympics — for three different countries.
Goalie Jimmy Howard, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, joins Team USA. His Detroit teammate Gustav Nyquist was named to the Swedish Olympic team earlier this week. Matthias Trattnig, a member of UMaine’s 1999 national championship team, will make his second Olympic appearance as an assistant captain for Team Austria.
“It’s great for the program to have [three] guys going to the Olympics,” said Howard, who spends time at Green Lake in Dedham during the summer with his wife, Rachel, and their son, James Russell Howard IV.
Howard’s opportunity to play for Team USA was uncertain after he re-injured his knee barely three weeks before Friday’s Olympic opening ceremonies.
A sprained medial collateral ligament already had sidelined the former All-American and now veteran starting goaltender for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings for three weeks earlier this season. It was now the same knee bothering him again.
But the 29-year-old Howard, a proud participant in Team USA programs for more than a decade, wasn’t among the skeptics.
“I wasn’t all that concerned,” the Ogdensburg, N.Y., native told the BDN. “[It] wasn’t as serious as before, but the fluid got back in there and made it painful to play.”
Howard missed four games before returning to the Red Wings’ lineup last weekend and displayed his recuperative progress by playing three games in four nights.
“My body is coming around, it’s nice to be able to feel healthier than I have been,” said Howard. “It’s just been nagging injury on top of nagging injury, one of those seasons when I’ve had to cope with a lot of things.”
Howard is one of three goalies on Team USA along with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres.
Howard, a second-round draft choice by the Red Wings in 2003, has been Detroit’s starting goaltender since 2009 and was named an NHL All-Star in 2012.
He is 11-12-9 with a 2.69 goals against average and a .913 save percentage this season after playing the final two periods of Detroit’s 2-0 win over Vancouver on Monday night.
Howard played at UMaine from 2002 to 2005, earning All-American honors in 2004 after leading the Black Bears to the NCAA championship game. Howard set NCAA records that season for goals against average (1.19) and save percentage (.956) and holds UMaine records with 63 saves in a game, 15 career shutouts and six shutouts in a season.
He has played on national teams since age 17, having previously competed in the Under-18 World Championships, the World Junior Championships and the World Championships.
“It’s such an honor,” said Howard. “Whenever you get the chance to represent your country and wear the jersey with USA across the front, it’s pretty special.”
Howard is scheduled to leave for Sochi on Sunday, with Team USA set to make its Olympic hockey debut against Slovakia at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time Feb. 13.
Nyquist was named to Team Sweden on Monday, replacing injured Detroit teammate Johan Franzen.
The 24-year-old right wing is riding a hot streak, having posted his first NHL hat trick Sunday during the Red Wings’ 6-5 overtime loss to Washington. Through Monday’s action Nyquist had eight goals and five assists in his last nine games and has totaled 13 goals and 10 assists in 31 games this season since being recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.
“Gus has been playing unbelievably well lately,” said Howard.
A fourth-round draft pick by Detroit in the 2008, Nyquist had 50 goals and 94 assists over three seasons at the UMaine, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award symbolic of college hockey’s top player in 2010.
Trattnig, a 34-year-old defenseman who was part of the Black Bears’ 1999 national championship club, is back for a second Olympic tour after previously playing for Austria at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Trattnig currently plays in the Austrian Erste Bank Hockey League and is the captain of EC Red Bull Salzburg.
Trattnig played forward while at Maine from 1997 to 2001 and as a freshman was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.
He was selected in the fourth round of the 1998 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks and is a veteran of the Austrian national team, having also competed in the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia.