Canadian hockey fans have never seen an Olympic team like this
It wasn’t going to be easy. Nothing has happened for the majority of the Canadian men’s hockey team for the Beijing Olympics next month.
The news that the NHL won’t be sending its players came in late December, and it changed the lives of an eclectic group of clubs around the world. How much those lives will change depends on how the games play out and how the team comes together on short notice.
Organizations talk about opportunity when a player is injured. This is an entirely different kind of opportunity. It’s a team opportunity – every position, every role, every job – at the highest level on the biggest stage. The race was on for Hockey Canada to fill those spots.
Management types like to categorize players. They want a benchmark, and the goal is to put together the perfect pieces for a short tournament. Complementary ingredients are essential, and even without the players in the best league in the world, the options were plentiful.
There are some familiar names on the list, and others we’ll come to learn.
- In a separate category, Eric Staal. At 37, he is a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, a world championship in 2007 and an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver in 2010. His 1,293 regular season games in the NHL outnumber 11 of the other forwards combined.
- Must-see talent includes Brandon Gormley and Josh Ho-Sang, top picks who dominated junior hockey but never settled at the NHL level. They ooze talent and the biggest stage can bring it out. Gormley, a skilled defenseman from Murray River, PEI, was drafted 13th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010. He managed just 58 NHL games in five seasons before play overseas, where he played in Sweden and Germany before landing in the KHL. The potential offensive game-breaker is the enigmatic Ho-Sang, who is having a terrific year with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. His 53 games in four seasons with the New York Islanders — where he was a first-round pick in 2014 — were followed by a nine-game cup of coffee in Sweden before landing with the Leafs farm club. Of all the pedigree players in this tournament, Ho-Sang still has perhaps the biggest advantage and the most up for grabs.
- Depth pros Ben Street and Landon Ferraro have proven their versatility and willingness to pay a price to keep playing the game they love. Street, 34, undrafted from the University of Wisconsin, plied his trade for six NHL clubs (59 games) before moving to Munich, where he was dominant in Germany’s top league. Like Street, Ferraro, 30, plays in Germany and offers speed, smarts, special teams play and can move up and down the lineup. His father Ray, an 18-season NHL veteran and now a TSN broadcaster, spoke of Landon’s long journey and called his Olympic selection “love at first sight.”
- The men in the fold couldn’t be more different. Devon Levi, the youngest at 20, burst onto the scene at the 2021 World Juniors, where Canada reached the final, and is now owned by the Buffalo Sabers. Edward Pasquale, 31, was drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 and saw exactly three NHL games after eight seasons on the underage buses. His last three seasons have been spent excelling in the KHL, and he’s perhaps best positioned to grab the net because of his experience alone. Matt Tomkins, 27, an Ohio State graduate, plays for Swedish powerhouse Frölunda in his first season across the big pond. Will the kid push the veteran or will Tomkins emerge in the middle?
- Kids are the future: Owen Power and Mason McTavish, 19, selected first and third in last year’s NHL Draft — and 18 years younger than teammate Staal. Both played in the recent World Junior Tournament which was interrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks, and both look set for the NHL. The biggest challenge has been to continue their elite development during the pandemic. Defenseman Power chose the NCAA route over joining the Sabers immediately and won world championship gold before the draft. He will return to the University of Michigan after the Olympics to complete his sophomore year and could be two-thirds of the way to joining Staal at the three-gold medal club ahead of his NHL debut. Center McTavish teased Anaheim with his rugged, abrasive talent during a nine-game NHL stint in the fall before returning to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, and it won’t be long before he becomes a regular on the Ducks roster.
It’s a really eclectic group. Many of them have traveled the world, and their next trip will be the most important. They will travel to Beijing, very unexpectedly, and will forever be known as Canada’s 2022 Olympic men’s hockey team.
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