“Plan B” appears to be in full effect for Hockey Canada.
For the first time since the 1994 Games, the National Hockey League will not be sending its players to the Winter Olympics. Countries like Canada are now forced to build their roster by other means.
Canadians currently playing professionally overseas are next in line. Call it the “Plan B” Team Canada.
“I guess you never want to be part of the ‘Plan B’ but in this case, you know, I’ll take it,” former Los Angeles Kings draft pick Brandon Kozun said.
The former Calgary Hitmen star forward played parts of fives seasons in the AHL, and got his first NHL taste during the 2014-15 season, playing 20 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The next season, he made the move overseas to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He finished ninth in KHL scoring last season, scoring 56 points in 59 games with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.
“The biggest surprise I had when I first went over there was just how good the hockey actually was. There are such good players playing over there that I think could easily be in the NHL.”
“Everyone wants the NHL to go, it’s the Olympics, you want the best players on the biggest stage. I think that’s obvious for anyone who’s a hockey fan,” Kozun said. “But, if Plan B has to happen, I don’t think anyone should be disappointed.”
The roster could look similar to that of the Spengler Cup – the best Canadian-born players not in the NHL – which could very likely include Calgary defenceman Mat Robinson, who has been playing overseas for the last six years. He most recently had an all-star last season with HC Dynamo Moscow.
“It would be unbelievable to get that opportunity, just right now being mentioned for maybe being there is exciting,” Robinson said. “To potentially get a medal, or just the experience of the Olympics alone would be tremendous.”
The 31-year-old’s first opportunity to wear a Canadian sweater came last November at the Deutschland Cup. When your country calls, no matter what tournament, Canadian players are proud to answer.
“We’re all excited to potentially go, and make the team and representing our country would be awesome,” Robinson said.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of putting that sweater on and the pride you get from it,” said Kozun, who played for Canada at the 2016 Deutschland Cup, as well as the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatoon.
Regardless of who makes up Team Canada, don’t expect expectations to change.
“I can tell you it would be a good team,” Kozun said. “The goal would be to win gold… and I think we would be good enough to do it.”
“No matter what, people are going to cheer for Canada and hope that we win,” Robinson added. “I mean, we wouldn’t go over there just being happy to be there, we’d be over there to win and not let our country down.”
Hockey Canada is currently working on including a national team in a series of tournaments in Russia, as an Olympic audition. The Canadian national team is scheduled to play in the Sochi Hockey Open starting on Aug. 5, part of the KHL pre-season schedule.
Hockey Canada is expected to announce finalized schedule details and their Olympic coaching staff at a press conference on Tuesday.