Chris Kelly knows what it is like to be a champion.
He stood with the Spengler Cup above his head in December in Davos, Switzerland. In 2011, he held the Stanley Cup over his head after contributing 13 points in 25 games and hundreds of other statistics and intangibles that could not be measured on the Boston Bruins’ march to a championship.
Kelly is hoping to help Team Canada to similar heights in Pyeongchang in what has instantly become a very interesting men’s Olympic hockey tournament.
Day one of games featured two upsets.
Slovakia came back against the favoured collection of Olympic Athletes from Russia and eeked out a 3-2 victory and Slovenia stunned the United States 3-2 in overtime.
Canada’s first test (on Thursday) will feel much larger than Slovenia or Slovakia as they take on a Swiss side that appears to have more talent than either Day one winner.
Kelly was named captain prior to the team’s trip to South Korea and knows that playing well will be about transitioning the team from the thrill of just being at the Olympics to being contenders for gold.
At the age of 37, Kelly admits the thought of being able to play for Canada at the Olympic Games wasn’t even in his mind.
“You dream of winning the Stanley Cup and when you make the NHL, you can kind of taste it,” says Kelly. “But with the Olympics, to me, it was something that was always out of reach.”
If you had found Kelly back in September, you would have seen just how out of reach they felt.
In other words, the former London Knights’ captain could see the lights of retirement at the end of the tunnel.
Before those lights got any closer, the team that gave Kelly his start, gave him an opportunity to keep going.
The Senators called and he wound up in Belleville, not too far away from his wife and children in Ottawa and then, as Kelly remembers it, things started to snowball.
“My agent spoke with Hockey Canada to see if I would be interested in playing in the Spengler Cup and that was a fantastic opportunity, but I think it was also pointed out that it wasn’t just about the Spengler Cup, it was also somewhat of an audition or a tryout for the Olympic Team.”
Kelly was good at the Spengler Cup in the way he has been good throughout his career. He is a natural-born leader who does the things necessary to help his teams win.
The Spengler Cup was Kelly’s first international experience for Canada and he soaked it in with his teammates, knowing full well that it could turn into a chance in Pyeongchang.
And it did. It’s a phone call Kelly will never forget.
“That was pretty special. I think just to get that phone call from Sean Burke and his staff to let you know you had made the team was tough to put into words. I was extremely humbled and honoured because there were so many guys to choose from, but I was extremely excited.”
That excitement exists throughout Team Canada’s roster.
Now, it gets a chance to go to work in step one toward the ultimate symbol in international competition.