USA Hockey has its 25-man Olympic roster. All that’s left is the announcement on Monday at the NHL’s Winter Classic.
“I guess I’ll reiterate what we felt all along is that we’re going to have 25 great stories and great paths to be an Olympian,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said Thursday. “I think that’s going to hold true on Jan. 1.”
The final roster decisions were made Wednesday, Johannson said.
It ended a three-part evaluation and selection process that began in earnest at the U.S.’ only pre-Olympic tournament in November.
A team made up primarily of veterans in European leagues went 0-3 at the Deutschland Cup in Germany but outshot Slovakia, Russia and Germany by a combined 95 to 60.
After the Deutschland Cup, U.S. coaches and officials spent much of the next four weeks scouting Olympic-eligible players in the American Hockey League and the NCAA. AHL players on NHL contracts aren’t eligible for the Olympics.
The last two weeks were about putting the puzzle together, writing names on paper and seeing where everybody fits.
Johannson, a 1988 and 1992 Olympian, has been with USA Hockey since 2000.
In some ways, picking this year’s team was more difficult without NHL players available for the first time since 1994. In other ways, it was easier.
“When you really start to break down our team, the personnel parts of it, it gives you a much more clear definition in your discussions and arguments,” he said. “It seems like we were talking more specific as opposed to building the quote-unquote ‘team.'”
Such as who would mesh well in the penalty-kill unit and power-play lines.
Johannson would not get into specifics but did confirm that the roster will have players from the Russia-based KHL, billed as the world’s second-best league behind the NHL.
The KHL has not said whether it will release players for the Olympics, but Johannson was confident that those named to the team Monday will suit up in February.
The KHL said last year it would release players for PyeongChang and even scheduled an Olympic break in its regular season. Then came the Olympic sanctions on Russia this fall.
Olympic men’s and women’s hockey teams of Russian athletes are expected to be allowed into the Winter Games, but it’s unknown which players an IOC panel will invite.
No Russian male hockey players have been implicated in the nation’s 2014 Olympic doping scandal that has led to bans for more than 40 Olympians, including several Russian female hockey players.
“We’ll understand who’s going and who’s not going and then the league will respond accordingly,” KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said Dec. 13, according to The Associated Press.
Johannson said there was no importance on getting a specific mix of players based in Europe, the NCAA and the AHL. He didn’t rule out the possibility that a junior player made the team.
“We definitely think the college guys are going to help us from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint,” Johannson said. “The European [league] guys are going to feed off these guys.”
The notable names at the Deutschland Cup were 2006 U.S. Olympic leading goal-scorer Brian Gionta, 2010 Olympic silver medalist Ryan Malone and Ryan Zapolski, who was then the top goalie in the KHL.
Chris Bourque, a son of Boston Bruins legend and Canadian Olympian Ray Bourque, leads the AHL in points and is eligible for Olympic selection.
From the NCAA, forwards Troy Terry (Denver) and Jordan Greenway (Boston University) were the two players chosen by USA Hockey to appear at a September USOC media summit with Olympic hopefuls from all sports.
Without naming a single player, Johannson stressed that versatility is the team’s strength.
“There’s a lot of guys that can play up and down our lineup that also can play if we need them to help shut down a top line,” he said. “A spark where we hope we get scoring from, I think there are guys that can do that as well. No matter what, I can say this for all of the [Olympic] teams [without NHL players], to really find your scoring is going to be a group effort. We’re going to really put an emphasis on special teams.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nzaccardi