January 23 2018, Vancouver,BC- After six Olympic cycles, the NHL has barred its players from playing for their countries in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Teams usually made up of NHL all-stars have been forced to scavenge the world in search for the men they hope can bring home gold for their countries. Canada and the USA in particular have been hit the heaviest, since 1998 every member of their teams has been on an NHL roster.
On January 11 2018, Hockey Canada unveiled the 25 men who will dawn the maple leaf in Korea. Many Canadians were underwhelmed after the announcement and left thinking “who? Where does he play?” Not knowing about foreign Canadian talents in leagues such as the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). For everyone wondering who these men are and if they really have a chance of topping the podium, we break down the Canadian men’s hockey roster for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Members of the Canadian team have combined for a total of 5544 NHL games, while six of the players have played over 400 games in the league. Not only does the team have plenty of NHL experience, it has a Stanley cup winner in Chris Kelly who won it in 2011 as a member of the Boston Bruins. The roster is largely made up of veteran players, with the oldest player being 37 year old KHL defenseman Chris Lee, and Christian Thomas being the youngest at 25.
After watching over 70 players in the past five months at tournaments such as the Spengler Cup, Canada was able to narrow its player pool down to the final 25.
Starting with the goalies, Canada’s net minder is un-doubted. It will be former Maple Leaf and Montréal Canadien Ben Scrivens. Since 2016 Scrivens has been in the KHL. Currently with the 2nd place Ufa Salavat Yulaev, he has posted a .918 save percentage after 35 games and is ranked 30th among goaltenders in that category. He led Canada to Spengler Cup glory for the third straight year in December of 2017. Backing him up, he will have Justin Peters and Montreal native Kevin Poulin. Poulin will likely be the second goalie for the Canadians., Also playing in the KHL since 2016, he has a similar save percentage to that of Scrivens. Expect to see Scrivens take most of the games, but don’t be shocked if Poulin sees the ice a couple times in the group stage.
The defense will be made up of five KHL players as well as two from other European leagues and a representative the AHL. While some of the names may be recognizable as former NHL players, one of them will be all too foreign. Chris Lee from Macteir Ontario has been plying his trade in the KHL since 2012, after spending two years in Germanys DEL. Lee represented Canada for the first time at the 2017 IIHF world championships in France and Germany. He was chosen as a tournament all-star for defenseman, beating out many NHLers who were at the tournament. Following that he has been a member of team Canada in each of their pre-Olympic tournaments, from the Sochi Hockey Challenge in August to the Spengler Cup in December. Its anyone’s guess as to who Lee will line up with in Korea, but contenders will likely be Maxim Noreau from Switzerland’s SC Bern, and Mat Robinson who is a member of 1st place KHL side CSKA Moscow. The three of them will be joined by fellow KHLers in Chay Genoway, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Karl Stollery. As well as the AHL’s Cody Goloubef who has 14 points through 21 games this year for the Stockton Heat and won gold with Canada 2009 World Junior team. Vancouver native Stefan Elliott rounds out the defenseman and will likely be a healthy scratch for some of the games. The Canadian blue line will remain a force to be reckoned with, despite the fact they are without heavyweights such as Brent Burns and Shea Weber.
The forwards are where it gets interesting, every forward on the team has played in the NHL. Led by a group of five former Vancouver Canucks, the Canadian forwards will be some of the best at the tournament. It is hard to pick which of Canada’s forwards will perform best at the tournament, because; well, they’re all very good. Most names will be recognizable to Canadians; Derek Roy, Chris Kelly and Mason Raymond all had successful stints in the NHL.
Roy spent 13 seasons in the NHL before leaving to Europe, scoring 524 points in his 738 games in the league 190 of which being goals. He spent eight years as a member of the Buffalo Sabres before becoming an UFA and bouncing around to many other teams in the league.
During his time in the NHL Mason Raymond was looked upon as they next young star. Drafted 51st overall in 2005, he spent two years at the university of Minnesota rather than playing junior. After graduating college, he made the jump up to the NHL in 2007. As a rookie he would score 21 points in 49 games for the Canucks, leading the team in minutes and points by a rookie that year. The boy from Cochrane Alberta would play six season with the Canucks, including 2010-11 in which he was part of the team that made the cup final; where ironically he lost to fellow 2018 teammate Chris Kelly. After his time in Vancouver drew to a close, he would struggle to find another long term team in the NHL, spending two years with the flames and one with Anaheim before moving abroad to play for SC Bern in the Swiss National League.
The most interesting career on the team is that of Chris Kelly. Through 15 seasons in the NHL, Kelly scored 290 points. His points total is not the flashiest or highest on team Canada, but he is the only member of the squad to have a Stanley Cup championship to his name. Kelly joined the Ottawa Senators in 2003, and stuck with them until the conclusion of the 2010 season. In the summer of 2010, Kelly signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent, he would go on to win the Stanley Cup in his first year with the team. After the championship, he would spend another four years with the bruins before moving back to Ottawa to finish his NHL career. Now as a member of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Torontonian has 3 points in 15 games.
The rest of the Canadian forwards are made up of KHLers, AHLers and more Swiss league players. Along with Mason Raymond, Andrew Ebbet will represent SC Bern, while Brandon Kozun also comes from the Swiss league as a member of HC Lugano. The KHL contingent comes in the form of Gilbert Brule, Rob Klinkhammer, Quinton Howden, Eric O’Dell, Linden Vey and Wojtek Wolski who comes back after a frightening neck injury late last season while playing for Kunlun Red Star. Rene Bourque is the final member of the team, and one of two who currently plays in the Swedish first division. Bourque spent 13 seasons in the NHL before switching to Europe in 2017. The Canadian forwards will be some of the strongest at the tournament, look for Canada to compete head to head with OAR’s (Olympic Athletes of Russia) forwards throughout the tournament.
Without NHL players this year, the Olympic tournament is wide open. OAR are the clear favourites to win with former NHL all-star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk paired with skilled defenseman like Slava Voynov. Interestingly all of the players on the team play for one of two clubs in the KHL, SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. Behind OAR, the tournament is wide open. Canada will rely on no-namers and rejects to try to defend their gold medal, while other countries will do their best to spoil the party. NHL players or not, these players have passion and the men who have gotten the chance to represent their country will make the most of it. Whether they come home with a medal or just memories. In every way, the Pyeongchang 2018 hockey tournament will be a special one and deserves your attention.