Canada will ice a men’s hockey team with more than 5,500 NHL games under its belt at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
With NHLers not taking part at the Winter Games, Hockey Canada drew talent from seven different leagues across North America and Europe. And while the team may not have the marquee value of Canada’s recent Olympic champion teams, Hockey Canada officials and coaches made a point of noting it is long on heart.
"All of our players, at somewhere along the line, they’ve been told ‘No,"’ head coach Willie Desjardins said at the roster reveal Thursday. "They not going to get a chance to continue their NHL career or even start it in some way.
"A lot like other Canadians, they’ve managed to battle it and fight back. They’ve stuck with it, they won’t give up … That’s what our team is about. It’s about guys who have received a no but found a way to make a yes."
Added Team Canada GM Sean Burke: "When we go to these Olympics, this team will make Canada proud. There’ll be a gold-medal effort and there won’t be one guy that puts that jersey that this isn’t the highlight of their hockey career and the highlight of their family’s career."
The bulk of the NHL experience comes from a half-dozen forwards with some familiar names.
Chris Kelly, who won the 2011 Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins, leads the way with 833 regular-season games in the NHL. Most recently the 37-year-old, who has 123 NHL goals and 166 assists, signed a tryout contract with Belleville of the AHL.
Derek Roy played 738 NHL games for Buffalo, Dallas, Vancouver, St. Louis, Nashville and Edmonton with 189 goals and 335 assists. Rene Bourque played 725 NHL games, notching 163 goals and 153 assists for six teams including Calgary and Montreal.
Maxim Lapierre played 614 NHL games for Montreal, Anaheim, Vancouver, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Mason Raymond saw action in 546 NHL games with Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Anaheim.
Wojtek Wolski, who thought his hockey career was over a year to due to a neck injury, played in 451 games for five teams.
The blue line is less experienced with Cody Goloubef leading the way with 129 NHL games.
Defencemen Chris Lee and Mat Robinson have not played in the NHL while Chay Genoway has one game and Maxime Noreau six.
Goalies Justin Peters, Ben Scrivens and Kevin Poulin have 277 NHL games between them, spread between eight teams. Peters plays in Germany, Scrivens in Russia’s KHL and Poulin for a Croatian team that plays in the Austrian league.
Thirteen players come from the KHL, four from the Swiss league, three each from Sweden and the American Hockey League, and one from Germany and Austria.
The roster announcement, carried live on several networks, was made at the Hall of Champions at Hockey Canada’s office in Calgary. It came one day after the NHL released its all-star squad.
Training camp starts Jan. 28 in Latvia for the Canadians.
The 12-nation men’s hockey tournament at the 2018 Games goes from Feb. 14-25 at the Gangneung Hockey Centre and the Kwandong Hockey Centre.
|Rene Bourque||Stefan Elliott|
|Gilbert Brule||Chay Genoway|
|Andrew Ebbett||Cody Goloubef|
|Quinton Howden||Marc-Andre Gragnani|
|Chris Kelly||Chris Lee|
|Rob Klinkhammer||Maxim Noreau|
|Brandon Kozun||Mat Robinson|
|Maxim Lapierre||Karl Stollery|
|Christian Thomas||Justin Peters|
|Linden Vey||Kevin Poulin|
|Wojtek Wolski||Ben Scrivens|
Canada opens play in a group with the Czech Republic, Switzerland and host South Korea.
The top four teams — the group winners and the second-ranked team with the best record –will advance to the quarter-finals while the other teams take part in qualification playoffs to see who joins them.
Hockey Canada vice-president Scott Salmond said the team selection process had lasted 14 months, involving seven tournaments and more than 100 players
Forward Christian Thomas, a second-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2010 who is playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL, got the news he had made the team from his father, former NHLer Steve Thomas.
"We’ve seen our players numerous times. We’ve seen all our players," said Burke. "I don’t think we can sit here today and say we missed anybody. Everybody was given an opportunity."
"Hockey Canada has once again left no stone unturned in putting this talented group of players together," said Chris Overholt, CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Overholt called the Games a "life-changing global sports event."
Most recently the Canadian team has played at the Sochi Cup, Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in St. Petersburg, Karjala Cup, Channel One Cup in Russia, and Spengler Cup in Switzerland.
NHLers may be missing but the passion is still there.
The Canadians engaged in a second-period brawl with a young Russian national team in a 3-2 loss at the Sochi tournament.
Canada’s 2014 Olympic team was star-studded with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews, The 25-man roster’s one-year salary cap hit was more than US$150 million, according to the Hockey News.
Canada has won 13 men’s hockey medals, including nine gold, since the first Olympic hockey tournament in Antwerp in 1920. The Canadian men have won three of the last four hockey golds, including the last two in Sochi and Vancouver.
Earlier this month, the U.S. team was unveiled with 17-year NHL veteran Brian Gionta appointed captain.
The Americans named a 23-man roster, with two goalies to be added later. Of the 23, 15 play in Europe. four in the NCAA and three in the American Hockey League. Gionta, an NHL free agent, had been working out with Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester.