By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – For Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, Wednesday could probably be classified as bittersweet. Surely, though, the sweet outweighed the bitter.
Howard could not stop a shootout goal from ultimately sinking the Red Wings in their Winter Classic matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he did get selected to the U.S. Olympic team.
“This is really surreal,” Howard said. “It’s been a great 24 hours. Very memorable for my family and myself as well.
“It’s a tremendous honor, to say the least,” Howard added. “Every single time you get to wear the U.S.A. sweater, it’s such a tremendous honor, and the respect that comes with it is second to none.”
Forward Henrik Zetterberg credited Howard with keeping the Winter Classic game so close and said Howard’s performance definitely warranted his selection to the Olympic team.
“Today he played unreal for us,” Zetterberg said. “He kept us in the game many times with some really nice saves. I think he deserves to go to the Olympics. He’s working hard, and I think it’s going to be a fun experience for him.”
Coach Mike Babcock acknowledged that highs and lows have been part of this season for Howard, but Howard impressed Babcock with how he played Wednesday after allowing five goals for a worrisome 82.1 save percentage Monday.
“It was good for Howie,” Babcock said. “Howie would be the first to admit that this hasn’t gone the way he wanted this campaign at all. I thought that his night the other day in Nashville was probably for him – I don’t know if was the low point for him, but Howie’s better than that. And so for him to respond today, he didn’t have a lot of work, but he had some tough plays.
“The way the puck was bouncing it was hard anyway for a goaltender,” Babcock continued. “I still thought it was a good thing. The other thing is, now that he’s been named to the Olympic team, he can breathe and just get on with being who he is.”
Howard, a 29-year-old Syracuse native, seemed happy to make the team despite some adverse circumstances.
“November wasn’t very kind to me, and then going down with a knee injury early December … now it’s just about going out there and getting into a rhythm,” Howard said. “The competition [at goalie is] fierce, but I think that’s a good thing. We’re going to be able to push each other, and I think that just breeds success for us.”