-- COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At the end of the day, it's a decision that won't be easy and it sure won't be fair.
But if Team USA has a hope of winning the World Cup of Hockey, then it better be the right decision.
Over the course of a handful of practices and two pre-tournament games, head coach John Tortorella and his staff will have to decide between a goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who has won two Stanley Cups and was once named playoff MVP, two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop and the technically superb Cory Schneider.
"There's certainly not enough time to make a true determination of who wins a job," Tortorella admitted on Tuesday after the team's second day of on-ice workouts. "When we make the decision, it's going to suck for the other guys. Plain and simple, it's not going to be fair. So I'll put that out there right now. It's not going to be fair to the other guys, but we have to eventually make a decision [about] who's going to start."
And no, he insisted, he does not know who his starter will be. But the clock is ticking.
"It's a nice problem to have," he said with a laugh, even if the goaltending conundrum has haunted him all summer.
Although the U.S., like all of the eight teams competing in the tournament, has three pre-tournament games -- beginning Friday at 8 p.m. ET against Canada -- and it might seem simple to just give each netminder one game in which to make his case, Tortorella wants to have a starter in mind by the third and final pre-tournament game.
That means each netminder will have less than a full game, plus practice sessions, to prove his bona fides.
For guys who have already established themselves as elite starting netminders in their own markets, the dynamic here at the U.S. training camp is both challenging and more than a little nerve-wracking.
"There's so little time to prove yourself and get in any kind of rhythm," said longtime NHL goalie Darren Pang, who is providing analysis for ESPN during the World Cup. "You have to seize every single shot against. It's almost like you're playing every situation in practice desperately -- which can be good and it can be harmful."
Bishop, who has led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals and the Eastern Conference finals the past two seasons, respectively, and has a .927 save percentage in 36 NHL playoff games, remains philosophical.
"I guess it's a little different, but at the same time I think we're all old enough and mature enough to realize the situation that we're in," the 29-year-old said. "If I'm in there, I feel like I'm capable of winning, and if those guys are in there, I know they can do the same. I'm glad I don't have to make the decision. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer."
What Tortorella has made clear is that once he names a starter, that goalie will basically play the entire tournament -- barring a drop-off in play or injury.
That means even the workouts that will lead up to Friday's first pre-tournament game take on even more importance in terms of staking a claim to the starter's role.
"It's not like it's written in stone or clear-cut like some other teams," said Schneider. "I think here it could be any one of us. We all have to make sure we're playing well because if you have a down practice or a down game, that's all it's going to take because the other two guys, you know they're going to be good. I think it's good, though.
"It forces you to raise your game and brings me back to when I was playing behind guys like Roberto Luongo and? Marty Brodeur. You get that drive to try to out-compete them and beat them, and I think it brings the best out of?you as a player," added Schneider, 30. "I'm enjoying it. We're having fun. We're competing, but we're also on the same team and we want the same thing. I think that's the most important part."
Two days into the process, all three have looked solid -- although Quick has prompted some oohs and aahs from observers thanks to a handful of spectacular saves during drills.
"The mindset is, they give you an opportunity to play, [so] you try and help the team win, whether it's preseason or tournament games," said Quick, who won Stanley Cups with the? Los Angeles Kings?in 2012 and 2014 and was the No. 1 for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. "I think that's not only working on your own game individually, but as a team you're working on winning."
All three goaltenders have qualities that would make them ideal starters for this tournament, Pang noted.
Quick is brilliantly athletic, Schneider is methodical and efficient and "incredibly technically sound," Pang said. And Bishop's play in crucial playoff moments the past two years has been outstanding. He is also the best puck handler of the three, Pang added.
For those reasons, Pang said he would choose Bishop as the starter. Now we have to wait to find out whether the Team USA coaching staff shares that assessment.