One-time 48-goal scorer Brian Gionta, a collection of other former NHL players and the son of a Hockey Hall of Famer highlight the U.S. Olympic roster announced Monday by USA Hockey at the Winter Classic.
The 2018 Games next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will mark the first time since 1994 that active NHLers have not played in the Olympic Winter Games.
“People may not know all of our players, but we think fans will get to know them quickly, because they are exciting to watch,” U.S. coach Tony Granato told USA TODAY Sports.
Chris Bourque, the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque, is another important player. Chris is 31 and has long been a standout in the American Hockey League. He boasts 11 goals and a league-best 39 points in 35 games for the Hershey (Pa.) Bears this season. He is eligible to play because he’s on an AHL-only contract.
“We are so proud of our son Christopher on being named to the USA hockey team… there’s nothing better than representing your country. We will be there by your side for this unforgettable experience,” tweeted the elder Bourque, who played internationally for Canada, including in the 1998 Olympics.
The Americans chose to go with an experienced team, made up primarily of players who are standouts in European professional leagues. Mark Arcobello leads the Swiss League in scoring with 39 points in 33 games. Other U.S. choices Garrett Roe and Broc Little rank fourth and 11th, respectively, in that scoring race.
“We have a competitive team,” Granato said. “Russia will have some name players, but this tournament is expected to be wide open. You just need to play your best hockey, and it’s the coaching staff’s job to make sure we do that.”
The U.S. defense will include former NHLers Matt Gilroy, James Wisniewski, Jon Blum, Noah Welch, Bobby Butler, Chad Billins and Bobby Sanguinetti. Also on defense: Swedish League defenseman Ryan Gunderson.
Other forwards include Kontinental Hockey League standouts Brian O’Neill and Ryan Stoa, former NHLers John McCarthy and Jim Slater and German League standout Chad Kolarik.
Before NHL players started going to the Olympics, it was an American tradition to use younger stars. Mike Ramsey played one season at Minnesota before he became part of the 1980 Olympic team, and Eddie Olczyk and Pat LaFontaine played for the 1984 team as teenagers.
Ryan Zapolski, who plays in the KHL, is the USA’s top goalie selection.
But the Americans opted not to tap Buffalo Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt,19, who has been impressive in the ongoing world junior championships. NHL scouts thought another junior-age player, 19-year-old defenseman Adam Fox, might make the team. But he was not among the choices.
“We know our top younger players can play at this level. Look at what Auston Matthews has in the NHL,” Granato said. “We have talented junior players, and we had a lot of discussion of about those players before we made our decision.”
The college players selected include Ryan Donato (Harvard), Troy Terry (Denver), Jordan Greenway (Boston University) and Will Borgen (St. Cloud State).
Drawing from the considerable talent in the KHL, Russia is considered the gold medal favorite. The Americans believe they have the talent to be a medal contender, although they didn’t perform well using some of these players at the recent Deutschland Cup. In three games, all losses, the Americans were outscored 12-4.