When the National Hockey League and its players agreed to suspend the season and compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, it came with the warning of pandemic conditions that did not make travel to China impossible.
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Seven weeks before the puck fell at what was supposed to be the first Olympics with NHL players since 2014, the league cut the grip amid a series of postponements for reasons related to the coronavirus. Instead of getting the world’s best on the Olympic ice for the sixth time since 1998, the tournament will now feature players from the college ranks in the United States, professional leagues across Europe and underage players in America. North.
The Russians are again favored to win gold after beating Germany in the 2018 final, thanks to talent from the home-based Continental Hockey League which will close for the Olympics. The lack of NHL players throws even more uncertainty into the competition and the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden all believe they have a realistic chance of winning.
“You watch the 2018 Olympics, it was just very competitive – there was a lot of parity,” said US coach David Quinn. “The Russians are seen as the team one step ahead of everyone else just because of the KHL, but they struggled (four years ago) with Germany in the medal game. ‘gold. I just think it’s going to be a very, very competitive tournament. “
Four years after the Russians – known as “Russia’s Olympians” – won gold, German silver and Canadian bronze, things seem wide open.
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Canada won’t have Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon on the same team for the first time as they try to win their third gold in the last four Olympics. But the mad hockey nation has a legitimate chance of winning thanks to some players with recent NHL experience.
Eric Staal is by far the most experienced and accomplished player expected to make it to the tournament: a nearly 1,400-game NHL veteran who played for Montreal in the Stanley Cup final last summer. He is already one of 29 Triple Gold Club players to have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a gold medal at the world championships.
Staal could wear the ‘C’ as Canada’s captain 12 years after the home ice triumph at the Vancouver Olympics, capped by Crosby’s famous gold goal to beat the United States in overtime.
Other recent NHL players slated to play for Canada include goaltender Devan Dubnyk, defenseman Jason Demers and forward Eric Fehr. Former Canadiens coach Claude Julien should be behind the bench.
The United States is hoping a balance of young college stars and experienced pros in the American Hockey League and Europe will add to their first Olympic men’s hockey medal since 2010.
That means North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson and Michigan’s Matty Beniers play alongside former NHL players Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer and Aaron Ness. It’s nowhere near Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones sharing the ice in what the Olympics were supposed to look like, but expectations are still high internally.
“We have good players everywhere, whether it’s in the NHL or in college hockey – I think we’re going to have a good team,” said Sanderson. “We just have to go out there, do our best and expect the best.”
The Russians in 2018 were an all-star team compared to the rest of the tournament, with future Hockey Hall of Fame member Pavel Datsyuk and longtime NHL sniper Ilya Kovalchuk skating with two-time NHL champion. the Slava Voynov Cup and now the Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov.
The 2022 squad isn’t as star-studded, but Voynov is back, with KHL top scorer Vadim Shipachyov and former NHL forward Mikhail Grigorenko.
After being ruled out of medals in all five Olympics with NHL players – despite Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the home tournament in 2014 – no country benefits more from the fact that the NHL doesn’t show up than Russia. The team is looking to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time in three in a row from 1984 to 1992. It will compete as the “Russian Olympic Committee”, under sanctions for various doping-related issues in several sports.
THE CHINA COUP
China will participate in men’s hockey for the first time at the Olympics as the host country. The squad is made up of some local talent and “heritage” players from the United States, Canada and beyond who signed up years ago to represent China in this tournament.
Goalkeeper Jeremy Smith and defenseman Jake Chelios are Americans. Captain Brandon Yip, defenseman Ryan Sproul and forward Spencer Foo are Canadians. They’ve formed a bond that they believe will help them once the game starts.
“One of the perks we’ve had is that the core group of us have been together for five years, so we’ve got pretty good chemistry,” Yip said. “We think it will be a big advantage over the other teams.”
Finland probably have the best chances of creating a surprise, thanks to a team style that relies on good goalkeepers and good structure. Recent NHL players Sami Vatanen, Leo Komarov, Markus Granlund and Valtteri Filppula also give Finland a significant boost in talent.
The Swedish team could have former NHL goaltender Anders Lindback, San Jose Sharks prospect William Eklund, who started the season in North America, as well as names familiar to hockey fans such as Jacob de La Rose, Oscar Lindberg and Christian Folin.
Germany are defending a silver medal, but not having 2020 NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl and Seattle Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer will hurt. Switzerland will also be missed by Nashville captain Roman Josi.