We are just a month away from the commencement of the opening ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
We are also just a month away from seeing an Olympic ice hockey tournament that won’t feature household names from the NHL representing their respective countries for the first time since the league approved the extended All-Star break to do so in 1998.
However, this shouldn’t be a reason to not tune in, but more a reason to why we should.
Now don’t get me wrong, there have been numerous memories from the tournament that featured NHL players that won’t soon be forgotten.
Who could forget Team USA forward T.J. Oshie putting on a shootout clinic against the Russians in Sochi during the 2014 Games?
Or what about Canada’s Sidney Crosby netting the overtime goal against Team USA to secure the first of back-to-back gold medals in 2010?
If you’re a fan of hockey, the chances of you remembering are fairly high.
So what’s to really look forward to this year after reminding you of such a great product we’ve been treated to for all these years?
While the brightness of the stardom that will don the ice for the United States in South Korea will be lackluster in comparison to previous years, we still get the chance to witness the raw emotion of these players – who may never see the ice during an NHL game – still have the opportunity to live out a childhood dream.
What a great storyline. I mean, just look at the roster for Team USA.
With the exception of 38-year-old Brian Gionta, not a single member has experience representing the United States on the Olympic stage.
A current free agent after spending 15 years in the NHL, the captain for the U.S. was apart of the 2006 Olympic team for the Americans that fell in the quarterfinal round. It has been reported that Gionta has been practicing with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League to stay in playing shape for the games.
Despite having just one player on the roster that boasts over 1,000 games played in the NHL, this isn’t a roster full of misfits.
Primarily made up of players who have recorded ice time in the NHL or in the AHL ranks, the roster has a bit of a veteran feel to it. While there are also a handful of players who have never seen the ice for a minor league team let alone an NHL franchise, many have managed to keep the love for the game alive, opting to continue their careers overseas.
If the format was the same that we’ve been accustomed to, a player with aspirations of representing their country on the grandest stage would easily be considered a longshot, making the format for this year’s team that much sweeter.
And yet, somehow it gets even better.
Unlike a 1980 Team USA roster comprised of collegiate players, only four NCAA athletes received the nod this year. Those players are State Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen, Harvard forward Ryan Donato, Boston University forward Jordan Greenway and Denver’s Troy Terry. While I would have really enjoyed seeing more college athletes get the chance to play in the Games, with strong performances by these four, it could be the proper stepping stone needed to have more college talent flood the roster. If, and only if the format is to stay for 2022 Games.
For Greenway and Terry, it won’t be the first time they were awarded the challenge of trying to win the United States a gold medal.
The duo was apart of a Team USA roster that defeated Canada in a shootout for the gold medal in the 2017 World Junior Championships just a year ago. In fact, Terry, a prospect for the Anaheim Ducks, gave fans watching his best impression of Oshie in his shootout dominance throughout the tournament, going a perfect 4-for-4.
if you’re looking for another reason as to why this Olympics could be something special for Team USA, look no further than Greenway.
A dominant power forward, the 6-foot-6 native of Canton, Ohio will become the first African-American player in USA hockey history. And, it’s warranted. A second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2015 draft, Greenway really had a coming out party in the World Junior Championships last year, giving Wild fans a glimpse of the future as fellow Wild prospect Luke Kunin was also on the roster. Greenway had the option to leave Boston University early and start his NHL career but chose to stay to compete as a junior for the Terriers.
It’s undeniable that the product on the ice may be a drop in the elite talent level that fans may be used to seeing for this year’s Olympics and understandably so. We won’t be watching the likes of Patrick Kane or Auston Matthews try to dangle opponents in front of the net in a Red, White and Blue sweater. However, legendary coach Herb Brooks (yes, that Herb Brooks) stated it best when it comes to having a roster built of professional athletes with this quote that was the featured in the ending credits of the hit movie “Miracle.”
“A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games – Dream Teams. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream.”
The odds are stacked against them, being a 10-to-1 favorite for the gold. However, this is what a “dream team” is suppose to resemble.
Now we get sit back and see the dream fulfilled.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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