The U.S. Olympic hockey team in PyeongChang — the first without NHL players since 1994 — should include an array of collegians and veterans in minor leagues and Europe.
It could also include a previous Olympian who hasn’t played professional hockey in more than two years.
Ryan Malone, a 37-year-old forward who earned a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, will try out for the Minnesota Wild during a preseason training camp starting next week.
Malone is setting realistic expectations — not to return to the NHL (though it would be incredible), but to make a minor-league team so he can be eligible for PyeongChang. He would love for his two boys — Will, 9, and Cooper, 7 — to watch him in South Korea.
“Either way I’m looking at it as a win-win for me to get back into the game on borrowed time and enjoy it,” Malone said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That was something I never even dreamed about or thought was possible [to play in the Olympics]. To have that experience and put on those colors, you get goosebumps talking about it. To have the slightest chance to do that again is well worth taking for me.”
He is 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).
The comeback began earlier this summer, when Malone was coaching in Minnesota’s “Da Beauty League.”
Despite the farcical name, the summer league is competitive. NHL.com called it “a glorified pickup game” for NHL and college players.
One night, Malone’s team was short on players. He laced up and felt pretty good for a retiree.
Earlier this summer, Malone had called USA Hockey GM Jim Johannson about a possible scouting gig. USA Hockey must scour the NCAA, Europe and U.S. minor leagues for talent to fill its 25-man Olympic roster.
So Malone decided to call Johannson again, but this time to ask about playing for the U.S. Malone was told that he would be eligible for Olympic consideration as long as he was playing in a non-NHL league (and not in the top minor league, the AHL, on an NHL contract).
“They’re in my corner,” Malone said of USA Hockey. “They have a good sense of my character and the player I am. It’s up to me to go out there and prove it.”
Malone made more calls that led to a tryout with the Wild, whose general manager, Chuck Fletcher, worked in the front office for the Pittsburgh Penguins when Malone was on that team a decade ago.
Malone debuted in the NHL with the Pens in 2003 and tallied 51 points for them in 2007-08, highlighting an 11-season NHL career. He opened 2009-10 with 19 goals in the first 38 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was named to the Vancouver Olympic team.
Malone can’t forget being on the bench when Zach Parise tied the gold-medal game with 25 seconds left, and for when Sidney Crosby won it with a golden goal. His silver medal has been in storage for a month or two as he has been between houses.
In April 2014, Malone was arrested for cocaine possession and driving under the influence and later sentenced to 12 months’ probation. His contract was bought out by the Lightning, and by the next year he was out of pro hockey.
Malone confirmed that his retirement wasn’t brought on by the arrest, but rather from leg injuries.
“I literally had legs like a 70-year-old lady,” Malone said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and confirmed that he underwent surgeries for varicose veins. “I feel better now than I did probably my last two years in the league.”
Malone might not be the only player with Olympic experience eyeing the 25-man U.S. team for PyeongChang.
“There are some guys that have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster,” Johannson said last month, without naming names.
A pair of 2006 Olympians — John-Michael Liles, a 36-year-old defenseman, and Brian Gionta, a 38-year-old forward — played in the NHL last season but are currently free agents.
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