VIEWPOINT: Barring NHL players from Olympics paves way for new athletes

By Michael Pattison

NHL players won’t be competing in the upcoming Olympics, but that doesn’t mean Canada can’t succeed. In fact, this country has just as good a chance as any nation to bring home the gold medal from South Korea.

It came as a shock to Canadians when the NHL barred its players from making the trip to Pyeongchang. It will be the first time since the 1994 Winter Games that Canada has not seen its elite talent suit up in red and white.

However, Canada is not the only country hurt by the NHL’s decision. Countries such as the U.S., Sweden, Finland and Russia have been forced to assemble teams without their top players.

Where have countries gone to find their Olympic competitors? Team Canada executives chose from among the top Canadians competing in the American Hockey League, the NHL’s main minor league, as well as those playing professionally in Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Russia.

The Canadian Olympic Committee put together a roster that includes former NHL players such as Derek Roy and Chris Kelly. Roy is originally from the nation’s capital and Kelly was a long-time Senators’ forward, making them an eye-catching duo for local hockey fans.

Joining them are some names that Canadian hockey fans might not recognize but will soon come to cheer for. One of those is Eric O’Dell, another Ottawa native who has spent the past two years with HK Sochi of the KHL, Russia’s top professional league.

He joins a list of talented players who will finally get their chance to shine on the Olympic stage.

The Winter Games tournament, which kicks off Feb. 15, will see some stiff competition for Canada. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea to place a bet on the Canadian squad.

Despite lacking a current NHL player, the Canadian team is widely viewed as the second-most likely to win the tournament. The only team with stronger betting odds is Russia, which will be competing under the Olympic flag and the name “Olympic Athletes of Russia” after the Russian Olympic committee’s recent ban from the International Olympic Committee. The ban stemmed from the country’s systematic  abuse of anti-doping protocols at Sochi

The OAR roster will include former NHL superstars such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, both of whom are currently playing in the KHL. However, without the presence of NHL talent such as Alexander Ovechkin, the roster has flaws and can be beaten.

Thirteen players on Team Canada’s roster currently play in the KHL. This means there will be a strong familiarity between players from the two countries and a solid possibility that Canada, with great coaching and goaltending, could take down the top-ranked Russians.

Canada will have some of the best netminding talent in the tournament. Former NHL goalie Ben Scrivens will be anchoring the Canadian squad and will look to continue his hot streak at the Winter Games. He is currently one of the best goaltenders in the KHL, posting a 47-29-10 record over the past two seasons.

For hockey fans who have had a negative view of the upcoming Olympics, it should be remembered that the Pyeongchang Games will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of our country’s best talents – elite players who don’t usually get covered by the mainstream North American media.

It will be a chance for Hockey Canada to show how deep development has gone in the country, and that even our “second unit” of Canadian players can keep this country on top of the Olympic hockey world.