Ryan Zapolski

U.S. Olympic men’s hockey roster

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NEW YORK — The first U.S. Olympic men’s hockey roster without NHL players since 1994 includes one previous Olympian, the son of a Canadian legend and four NCAA skaters.

Brian Gionta, the leading goal scorer on the 2006 Olympic team, and Chris Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, headline the 23 men announced at the Winter Classic on Monday.

Gionta is the captain. Two more goalies must still be announced.

The U.S. opens PyeongChang group play against Slovenia on Feb. 14. Russia and Slovakia are also in the group, which is the same four teams as in 2014.

The U.S. Olympic roster:

Goalies
Ryan Zapolski (Russia) — NHL Games: 0
TBA
TBA

Defensemen
Chad Billins (Sweden) — NHL Games: 10
Jonathon Blum (Russia) — NHL Games: 110
Will Borgen (NCAA) — NHL Games: 0
Matt Gilroy (Russia) — NHL Games: 225
Ryan Gunderson (Sweden) — NHL Games: 0
Bobby Sanguinetti (Switzerland) — NHL Games: 45
Noah Welch (Sweden) — NHL Games: 75
James Wisniewski (Germany) — NHL Games: 552

Forwards
Mark Arcobello (Switzerland) — NHL Games: 139
Chris Bourque (AHL) — NHL Games: 51
Bobby Butler (AHL) — NHL Games: 130
Ryan Donato (NCAA) — NHL Games: 0
Brian Gionta (unsigned) — NHL Games: 1,006
Jordan Greenway (NCAA) — NHL Games: 0
Chad Kolarik (Germany) — NHL Games: 6
Broc Little (Switzerland) — NHL Games: 0
John McCarthy (AHL) — NHL Games: 88
Brian O’Neill (Russia) — NHL Games: 22
Garrett Roe (Switzerland) — NHL Games: 0
Jim Slater (Switzerland) — NHL Games: 584
Ryan Stoa (Russia) — NHL Games: 40
Troy Terry (NCAA) — NHL Games: 0

USA Hockey officials and head coach Tony Granato previously said the team would include a mix of players based in European leagues, the AHL and the NCAA.

The breakdown:

Europe: 15 (Russia-5, Swiss-5, Sweden-3, German-2)
NCAA: 4
AHL: 3
Unsigned: 1 (Gionta trains with an AHL team)
Players with NHL experience: 15 of 23
Total NHL experience: 3,083 games (avg. 134 per player)

A notable absence is Ryan Malone, a 2010 Olympic silver medalist who unretired in the summer in a bid to return to the Games.

Gionta, a 38-year-old who may have played his last competitive club game, will become the oldest U.S. Olympic hockey player since Chris Chelios in 2006. Chelios is an assistant coach for this year’s team.

Granato said that Gionta looked “in midseason form” in the U.S.’ pre-Olympic tournament in November.

Granato knew Gionta would be the team captain as soon as the 15-season NHL veteran expressed interest in Team USA months ago.

“Plenty of other players you consider great leaders, but there’s one Brian Gionta,” said Granato, who retired from the NHL prior to Gionta’s first season in 2001-02. “We’re lucky he’s an American.”

Bourque, the AHL’s leading points scorer, will become the second Olympian in his family. Father Ray, the longtime Boston Bruins defenseman, played for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

“It’s one of the biggest moments in not only my hockey career, but in my life,” Bourque said, according to his AHL team, the Hershey (Pa.) Bears.

Borgen, Donato, Greenway and Terry will be the first college men to play for a U.S. Olympic team since 1994. Terry, 20, will be the youngest U.S. man to play at the Olympics since 1992.

Zapolski, 31, has been the star U.S. goalie playing abroad this season. He was the KHL goalie of the month for October, including a 245-minute shutout streak, third-longest in league history.

“He’s on our roster, the first goalie for a reason,” Granato said when asked if Zapolski would be his No. 1 goalie in PyeongChang.

Granato said the other two goalies will be named in the next two weeks.

Fifteen of the 23 players were on the U.S. team at the Deutschland Cup in Germany in November.

The Americans went 0-3 at the Deutschland Cup but outshot Slovakia, Russia and Germany by a combined 95 to 60.

The U.S. is the first nation to announce its Olympic men’s hockey team. Canada’s is expected to be named next week.

The Olympic favorite is Russia, since it is expected to lean heavily on KHL stars such as four-time Olympians Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

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Carpe Diem: U.S. goalie goes from near retirement to Olympic favorite

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Goalie Ryan Zapolski was vacationing in Rome this past offseason when he began receiving messages with links to articles projecting the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team.

Under normal circumstances, a 30-year-old journeyman on a Finnish club with zero NHL experience would have disregarded them.

But these are unusual times. The NHL is not participating in the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

Zapolski knew this by early April. And he also knew that there was a dearth of notable American goalies playing in the world’s other top leagues. None who have ever played in the NHL, actually.

So Zapolski could not have been surprised to look at those Team USA projections and see his name on most, if not all of them.

“It’s disappointing for fans that the NHL wouldn’t be there [in PyeongChang],” Zapolski said in a phone interview earlier this month, “but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Zapolski, by virtue of an incredible early season in the world’s second-best league, is the current favorite to start in PyeongChang. The Americans open against Slovenia on Feb. 14.

U.S. hockey officials are usually tight-lipped about Olympic roster prospects, but Zapolski has been so good this fall that even U.S. general manager Jim Johannson had to say the Erie, Penn., native has “separated himself.”

When Zapolski was named last week to the U.S. roster for its only pre-Olympic tournament, he was leading the Russian KHL in wins (16-1 record), save percentage (.956), goals-against average (1.11) and shutouts (five). He has since lost three straight games but remains No. 2 in save percentage and goals-against.

The KHL includes 27 teams from seven nations. Zapolski plays for Helsinki’s Jokerit, which has been on average the best non-Russian team in the league since it joined in 2014-15.

Zapolski is now in his fifth season in Finland.

Before that he bounced around — the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, a walk-on at Erie’s Mercyhurst College, the Florida Everblades, Stockton Thunder, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye, Gwinnett Gladiators and South Carolina Stingrays.

Frustration set in as he tried and failed to find regular playing time in the ECHL. So many players on NHL and AHL contracts get sent down there.

“I was almost done,” in 2012, said Zapolski, who became a full-time goalie at age 12 and didn’t get serious until 16 or 17. “Traveling to six different cities in a season, not really going anywhere. Then I got a chance in South Carolina and took off.”

Zapolski was the league’s top goalie in 2012-13 by a considerable margin with a goals-against of 1.64 (second-best was 2.17) and a save percentage of .942 (second-best was .925).

It didn’t lead to attention from NHL clubs, but the Finnish League offered him a chance to continue playing regularly.

Zapolski took it and was the No. 1 for one of its top clubs for three seasons before joining Jokerit, the only Finnish team in the KHL. Last season was not his best, and Jokerit then signed Finnish veteran Karri Ramo, a former Tampa Bay Lightning backup.

But Ramo suffered a knee injury in training camp, Zapolski said. That provided Zapolski a chance to earn his place early this season. Suffice to say, he has. Zapolski’s current contract is up in 2018.

“If it’s a good offer, and it works out the next few years, I’ll stay [in Finland],” said Zapolski, who lives with his wife (no kids) in Finland but spends summers in Erie. “I do want that chance to go back home, but it’s really got to be a team that says we’re going to give you a fair chance to be in the NHL. It’s pretty rare for guys my age to jump over to the NHL.”

Zapolski’s associations with the Olympics are few.

“I think [1980 Olympic forward] Mark Johnson maybe walked by me in a hallway once,” he said.

But the U.S. has a history of Olympic star-turn goalies.

Of course, Jim Craig is the clearest example from the Miracle on Ice.

There’s also Ray LeBlanc, one of the veterans on the 1992 Olympic team at age 27. LeBlanc had just as dizzying of a minor-league odyssey as Zapolski before nearly backstopping the U.S. to a surprise medal in Albertville. He had a 46-save shutout of Germany.

LeBlanc got his NHL call shortly thereafter, playing his first and final game for the Blackhawks the next month. (Chicago had an ulterior motive — LeBlanc’s start meant that it could protect its top goalies from an upcoming expansion draft)

Also in 1960, Jack McCartan, on loan from the U.S. Army, beat the Canadians, Czechs (twice) and Soviets en route to gold. Originally cut from the Olympic team, McCartan ended up becoming one of two players from that roster to make the NHL.

Zapolski wears the American flag on the back of his Jokerit mask. At Mercyhurst, where he played in front of a few hundred fans on average, the team motto was “Carpe Diem.” He notes that Mercyhurst has an NHL pipeline of one — defenseman Jamie Hunt played one game for the Washington Capitals in 2006.

The Olympics could be his big chance.

“Everybody dreams of playing in Olympics, winning the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d be playing hockey at this age still. When you’re bouncing around the minors, your dream shakes a bit.”

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USA Hockey’s pre-Olympic roster full of NHL experience

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USA Hockey provided a look at a large chunk of its potential Olympic men’s roster in announcing the team for its only pre-Olympic tournament.

Brian Gionta and Ryan Malone, forwards on the 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams, respectively, and the KHL’s top goalie, Ryan Zapolski, headline the 29-man squad for the Deutschland Cup in Germany next month.

All three were previously confirmed by USA Hockey as being on its Olympic team radar.

In all, 21 of the 29 players have NHL game experience, combining for 4,878 career NHL regular-season games, or 168 games per player. None of the three goalies named have played in the NHL.

The Deutschland Cup roster includes top Americans playing in European leagues, plus Gionta, a 15-year NHL veteran currently unsigned, and Malone, an 11-year NHL veteran in the AHL. Gionta is practicing with the AHL’s Rochester Americans to stay sharp.

The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players, to be named around Jan. 1, is expected to include Europe-based players as well as some NCAA players and those in the AHL who aren’t on NHL contracts.

Zapolski is the standout U.S. goalie playing abroad, leading the KHL in wins (16-1 record), save percentage (.956), goals-against average (1.11) and shutouts (five).

Gionta, 38, and Malone, 37, are older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic hockey player (Chris Chelios, who played at age 40 in 2002 and 44 in 2006 and is an assistant on the PyeongChang team).

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Deutschland Cup Roster
Goalies
David Leggio (German League) — NHL Games: 0
Brandon Maxwell (Czech League) — NHL Games: 0
Ryan Zapolski (KHL) — NHL Games: 0

Defensemen
Mark Stuart (German League) — NHL Games: 673
Tom Gilbert (German League) — NHL Games: 655
Mike Lundin (KHL) — NHL Games: 252
Matt Gilroy (KHL) — NHL Games: 225
Jonathon Blum (KHL) — NHL Games: 110
Dylan Reese (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 78
Noah Welch (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 75
Matt Donovan (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 67
Bobby Sanguinetti (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 45
Chad Billins (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 10
Ryan Gunderson (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 0

Forwards
Brian Gionta (unsigned) — NHL Games: 1,006
Ryan Malone (AHL) — NHL Games: 647
Jim Slater (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 584
Mark Arcobello (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 139
Drew Shore (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 94
Dan Sexton (KHL) — NHL Games: 88
Robbie Earl (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 47
Ryan Stoa (KHL) — NHL Games: 40
Brian O’Neill (KHL) — NHL Games: 22
Andy Miele (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 15
Chad Kolarik (German League) — NHL Games: 6
Sean Backman (German League) — NHL Games: 0
Ryan Lasch (Swedish League) — NHL Games: 0
Broc Little (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 0
Garrett Roe (Swiss League) — NHL Games: 0