Canada’s Olympic hockey team won’t have current NHL players on the ice, but plenty of players from other leagues.
Hockey Canada drew talent Thursday from seven different leagues across North America and Europe after the NHL bowed out of competing in South Korea. That’s in stark contrast to Canada’s Olympic champion teams in Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014), which were loaded with NHL stars.
Forwards Gilbert Brule, Mason Raymond, Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski and goaltender Ben Scrivens are former NHL veterans on the team. It’s the first time Canada will go to the Olympics without NHL players since 1994.
They don’t exactly bring the star power of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Carey Price, all Olympic gold medalists. Still, expectations are Canada will bring home its third straight Olympic gold medal and 14th men’s title.
General manager Sean Burke, coach Willie Desjardins and Team Canada officials scoured Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and Switzerland’s National League, among others, for players talented enough to wear the Maple Leaf on the world stage.
“I have to thank (Hockey Canada) for the geography lesson and the air miles,” said Burke, joking at a press conference Thursday. “I apologize I can’t do this in French, but I could probably do it in Russian.”
The bulk of the NHL experience comes from a half-dozen forwards.
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 Kelly, who has 123 NHL goals and 166 assists, signed a tryout contract with Belleville of the AHL.
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. Raymond saw action in 546 NHL games with Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Anaheim.
“When we go to these Olympics, this team will make Canada proud,” Burke said.
Wolski, who thought his hockey career was over a year ago 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.
Defensemen Chris Lee and Mat Robinson have not played in the NHL. Chay Genoway has one NHL game and Maxime Noreau six.
Goalies Justin Peters, Kevin Poulin and Scrivens 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 AHL, and one from Germany and Austria.
“A lot like other Canadians, they’ve managed to battle it and fight back,” Desjardins said. “That’s what our team is about. It’s about guys who have received a no, but found a way to make a yes.”
Training camp starts Jan. 28 in Latvia. Canada starts Olympic play in a group with the Czech Republic, Switzerland and host South Korea.
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