With no NHL, who will play for Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics?
For Francis Paré getting the call from Hockey Canada to wear the maple leaf and help his country defend gold at the 2018 Olympics would be a dream come true.
“It would be an amazing honour. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps,” Paré told Global News Wednesday.
The 29-year-old Quebec native is currently playing for Medvescak Zagreb in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and is one of several Canadians playing overseas who could be called upon to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea after the NHL rejected the Olympics.
Paré said, as a fan of the sport, he was disappointed with Monday’s announcement from commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I think everyone in Canada was watching when Team Canada won the gold [in hockey] at the [Sochi Olympics],” he said. “It’s the Olympics. It just means so much, it’s the best-of-the-best in the world and it’s a celebration of the sport.”
Instead, Canada will move from “Plan A” to “Plan B” that will likely involve players currently in Europe and Russia, players in the American Hockey League (AHL) or college players
“[Monday’s] statement by the NHL is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players,” Tom Renney, Hockey Canada president and CEO, said in a statement. “This does not change our preparation for the Games – we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward.”
If the NHL stays its course, it would mark the first time since the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, without any NHL players. In Lillehammer, Canada — led by Paul Kariya, Petr Nedved and goalie Corey Hirsch — took home the silver after losing to Sweden in a thrilling shootout.
Paré helped Canada take home the gold at the Spengler Cup in December in Davos, Switzerland and could be among a mix of other players in the KHL and the Swedish and Swiss leagues to make the team.
“Even though I am not Sidney Crosby, I would have a chance to play for a medal and as a Canadian it would be an amazing experience for me,” Paré said.
Players like Matt Ellison, Chris Lee, Max Talbot and Brandon Kozun, currently all playing in Russia, and David McIntyre, Maxim Noreau, Nick Spaling, currently in Switzerland, all have a shot at being named by Hockey Canada. Eighteen-year-old Nolan Patrick, the projected No. 1 NHL draft pick who returned to junior hockey could also be a candidate.
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Goaltenders like Zachary Fucale, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, Michael Leighton (AHL) and Kevin Poulin (Russia) could be among the candidates to start for Canada between the pipes.
Brenden Kichton, a 24-year-old defenceman with the Manitoba Moose, said while everything is far from being decided it would be a “huge honour” to be named to the Olympic squad.
“It’s definitely something in the back of your mind but right now it’s purely speculative,” Kichton told Global News. “Who knows what’s going to happen.”
“It’s something that you grew up watching. It would be really exciting,” he said.
Bettman said there has been increasing resistance by NHL owners to allow players to attend a sixth consecutive Olympics citing the disruption on the season and increased risk for player injury.
Player and fan reaction to the NHL’s announcement was swift and fiery.
Washington Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin says he’ll be at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in 2018 despite what the NHL says.
“I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” said Ovechkin, who’s never won an Olympic medal. “It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. Somebody going to tell me I don’t go, I don’t care, I just go.”
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Edmonton Oilers phenom McDavid called the NHL decision “disappointing.”
“It’s disappointing for all the young guys in the league – Eichel, Matthews, Ekblad, the list goes on and on and on – all these young guys that are trying to make their mark on hockey and they may not be able to get their chance to on the international stage so that part of it is a little bit upsetting,” McDavid said.
But for players like Paré and Kichton, the absence of NHLers could be a big opportunity.
“I hope there is going to be a slight chance that NHL players will go, if not, I’m sure the players selected will be just fine and play as hard as possible to bring home the gold,” Paré said.
— With files from Mitch Rosset and The Canadian Press
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.