Wings’ Howard on a mission

Please forgive me for not getting too caught up in the hoopla surrounding the home-run prowess of Brandon Inge, the feel-good atmosphere of Lions rookie camp or whether it’s time to fire Jim Leyland.

My mind has an acute Inge hangover, rookie camp has never been much of a thrill ride for me and Leyland isn’t going anywhere.

There is, however, an event going on halfway across the globe that has caught my complete attention.

In Finland and Sweden, the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship is being decided, with several Red Wing players participating in an event that has tremendous interest internationally but hardly registers a pulse in the United States.

Even though Team USA has a legitimate chance of earning a medal, it’s not the feeling of national pride that has dominated the local conversation about the tournament; it’s why is Jimmy Howard playing?

It appears that a segment of Red Wing fans are miffed that Howard would suit up for Team USA right after their beloved Wings were ousted from the playoffs.

This sentiment is rooted in the perception that Howard hasn’t been 100 percent since he broke his right index finger against Vancouver at the midway point of last season.

Add on his two groin strains after his finger healed, and conventional wisdom (among some fans) is that Howard should be resting and rehabbing his body, not playing hockey.

First and foremost, Howard’s top priority is to win the Stanley Cup as a Red Wing. He would never jeopardize that dream or his career. He’s healthy.   

But Howard also wants to be a member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic hockey team. That’s why he’s playing in the worlds. He hasn’t worn the colors since the 2002-03 season, when he was on the U.S. World Junior team.

And if you look at the current American goalies in the NHL, Howard, despite putting up solid numbers, is probably considered the fourth or fifth best in the league.

Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick are the two top American goalies and are a lock to make the Olympic team. Howard will have to compete with Cory Schneider for the third and final goaltending spot, along with the ageless wonder Tim Thomas.

At this point, most hockey observers feel the nod would go Schneider. This observation hasn’t been ignored by Howard.

When the Wings were cleaning out their lockers, Howard told the assembled press corps that he needed to play for Team USA at the international level if he wanted to be considered for the Olympic team.

Detroit’s early playoff exit has given Howard that opportunity, and thus far he’s undefeated in the tournament.

If he continues to stand firm in net for Team USA, Howard will not only return home this spring with a medal, but he’ll have renewed confidence — his sights set on winning a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold, which would be the best of both worlds for Detroit hockey fans.