GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of – There’s not much Chris Kelly hasn’t seen in hockey, but a ‘C’ on his sweater is new.
“This is my first time,” said the 37-year-old former Boston Bruin and Ottawa Senator who will captain Team Canada at the Winter Olympics. “I’ve been an alternate in a few places.
“For whatever reason I couldn’t get it in Ottawa when they had (Daniel) Alfredsson there,” he added, tongue in cheek. “And then I went to Boston and they had (Zdeno) Chara. So I don’t know. Just bad luck, I guess.”
For Kelly, the captaincy is another step on a unexpected second chapter to his hockey career. After being let go by the Ottawa Senators after last season, he spent time with the Edmonton Oilers on a professional tryout this season.
When that didn’t work out, he returned home to Ottawa in mid-November and gave himself until the end of the month to keep training. He told himself if nothing came up by then, he would “look at other avenues after hockey.”
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Instead he got an offer from the Senators to join their AHL affiliate in Belleville. That led to a Hockey Canada call-up at the Spengler Cup and now he finds himself captaining the Olympic team.
“Such a great honour,” Kelly said after getting his first look at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. “And very humbling. There’s so many great people in that locker room who could ultimately be wearing it. It’s a thrill.”
Kelly, who has 833 NHL games and a Stanley Cup win under his belt, heads a six-man leadership group that also features Rene Bourque, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, Derek Roy and Maxim Noreau.
Kelly, Roy, Bourque and Ebbett account for 2,520 of the 5,544 NHL games that the 25-man Olympic team roster has under its belt. Noreau has just six NHL games but has played in Europe since 2011 while Lee, the lone non-NHLer on the roster, has eight seasons in Europe including five in the KHL.
Lee is 37, Bourque 36, Ebbett 35, Roy 34 and Noreau 30.
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Bourque, Ebbett, Lee, and Roy will rotate wearing the ‘A’ as on-ice alternate captains during the tournament. Noreau will not wear an ‘A.’
The Canadians arrived Thursday from Riga, Latvia, where they held a pre-tournament camp and beat Belarus and Latvia by the same 2-0 margin in exhibition play.
Their arrival was low-key, compared to the rock-star reception normally afforded the star-studded, NHL-fuelled Canadian Olympic teams. Apart from rights-holders, only two Canadian reporters were on hand when Kelly and Noreau walked into the rink in the evening.
Despite a long travel day, both players were on an Olympic high.
“You know what, I thought I would be a lot more tired than I am,” said Kelly. “That excitement coming and seeing the locker room, the arena and the (Athletes) Village, I think that we’re like little kids right now. We’re definitely excited to see everything and get acclimated as quick as possible.”
Added Noreau: “It’s been fun. I think we’re running on fumes right now but we’re so excited that we’re open to anything at this point. We’re looking forward to a good night’s sleep and start skating tomorrow.”
Hockey Canada had decorated their rooms with family photos, a touch that was clearly appreciated.
“It was a little thing but a huge thing,” said Kelly. “I walked in my room and there was a picture of my family. I’ve got three daughters and just to see them put a smile on my face.”
“Team Canada did a great job in our building setting up,” added Noreau. “You feel like you’re home. It’s great to see. It’s really comfortable for us. It feels like Canada so we’re really happy and excited to get going.”
A statue of a moose apparently greets athletes entering the Canadian part of the Village.
After a final exhibition game against Sweden in Incheon on Sunday, Canada begins its quest for a third straight gold medal Feb. 15 against Switzerland.