What happens when American stalwarts such as Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Jimmy Howard and other top USA goalies aren't available to play in the World Championships currently happening in Slovakia?
Simple: Team USA digs deep into its depth chart and names NHL journeymen Ty Conklin and Al Montoya as their tournament goalies.
After a shaky showing by the Islanders' Montoya, Conklin came in and performed very well, with a great game against Canada in an OT loss and a win against France. USA was poised to vie for the gold and Conklin was the presumed #1. But then came a 5-3 loss to Switzerland in which Conklin was yanked (see above video) after allowing 4 goals on 16 shots, the straw that broke the goalie's back being a sloppy turnover by Conklin behind the net.
Conklin's sudden shift from being a Berlin Wall to being Swiss cheese is a micro-cosmic tale of his up-and-down career that tells the story of why he has yet to breakthrough to the level of a Ryan Miller.
Conks is 35 and has played for six teams in eight NHL seasons. Although he has hopped around more than the Easter Bunny, Conklin's career stats - (91 W - 61 L- 4 T -16 OTL) and a 2.64 GAA - are solid. And he has shined in the international spotlight before, leading USA to its last WC medal, a bronze back in 2004 when he was voted that tourney's top netminder.
But the Alaska native, who likes to fly planes in his spare time and I'm told is a mentally sharp guy who has great intellectual skills, until now has been overlooked by the Team USA bosses as Miller, Thomas and other Americans have risen to dominance.
Insiders tell me that his biggest problem has been consistency. He might play four great games in a row, but then turn around with two horrible games. Which, of course, is what happened at the World Championships.
It's a shame.
As a result, Conklin, a former University of New Hampshire standout, has been relegated as a capable NHL backup and fifth or sixth-string Team USA goalkeeper, but not a starter - mostly because of these consistency issues.
When a keeper is branded as inconsistent, the roots of his on-and-off performance typically are in his mental state. Is it possible that the hyper-intellectual Conklin is too smart for his own good? Is he over-thinking his highs and lows to the point where it takes him out of the moment? I am the first guy to argue that a dumb goalie is an inferior goalie. In fact, the more mentally agile a goalie the better decisions he makes. But I do believe that, besides physical injury, the single greatest enemy to a 'tender is his own mind.
My prescription for Conklin is this: Make like Tim Thomas did a few years back and take up yoga. Find your breath and lose your mind. Meanwhile, he can watch the highlight reel below and see what great things he can do when he's of right mind.