PARK CITY, Utah – They’ll come from Europe. They’ll come from college. They’ll come from the U.S. minor leagues. And when they come together to make up the 2018 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team — the first since 1998 to not include NHL players — the expectations will remain the same.
"We have a great talent pool available to us, and we will be able to put together a team that will be exciting, fun to watch and will compete for a medal,” coach Tony Granato said Monday at the Team USA Media Summit, a pre-Olympic press event in Park City, Utah.
After five Olympic Winter Games with NHL players, the league announced in April that it would not participate in the PyeongChang Games. As a result, this year’s U.S. team will be made up of players from professional teams in Europe, colleges or the American Hockey League, which is the top minor league to the NHL. Players on two-way NHL-AHL contracts will not be eligible.
The change affects all of the top teams to some extent, but especially teams like the U.S. and Canada that have typically been made up exclusively of NHL players.
USA Hockey has identified a pool of just under 100 eligible players that it will pare down to 25 for the Olympic team. Granato said Team USA, which will be named around the first of the year, will likely feature heavily from the European leagues and colleges, with some AHL players mixed in.
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“From a numbers perspective, it could be anywhere between 10 and 17, probably, from the European leagues,” Granato said. “And then it could be 10 or 12 from the college kids, too. It’s just hard to put numbers on it.”
The first step toward narrowing down the player pool will come at the Deutschland Cup, which takes place Nov. 10-12 in Augsburg, Germany. It will be the only pre-Olympic competition for the U.S., and Granato and his staff will lead a team made up of players exclusively from the European leagues.
“So we’ll get a pretty good idea at that tournament of what we have,” Granato said. “From that tournament we’ll probably have a pretty good chunk of the team that will be with us from that day moving forward. And then we’ll fill in with our college players and our players here in the minors.”
Granato, who also coaches the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, is working with general manager Jim Johannson and director of player personnel Ben Smith to put together the team, while also leaning on contacts from his playing and coaching days in the NHL.
The final Olympic roster could feature a wide range of experience, including NHL veterans. Ryan Malone last played in the NHL in 2014, but the 11-year veteran is taking part in the Minnesota Wild training camp in hopes of earning an AHL contract and thus a shot at the Olympic team.
The top-end talent, however, could come from the college guys.
“You’re going to see young players that will be really exciting to watch, and you’ll be watching them for a long time in the NHL post-Olympics,” Granato said.
Case in point: Sitting next to Granato on the stage Monday were Boston University’s Jordan Greenway and Denver’s Troy Terry.
“I’m pretty confident that both these guys could turn pro this summer and probably could turn pro right now if they wanted to,” Granato said.
Instead, the 20-year-olds will return for their junior seasons, with Denver ranked first and BU ranked second in the first preseason poll.
Greenway, a second-round draft pick of the Wild, scored 10 goals and 31 points in 37 seasons last year for BU, but decided not to sign a pro contract over the summer in part so he could come back and win an NCAA title and Olympic gold medal.
“I always think about the Olympics, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” said Greenway, who is ranked as the No. 65 in the latest NHL prospect rankings put out by website the Hockey Writers.
He said he’s willing to play any role he’s asked for Team USA: “Whether I’m a first-line guy, a fourth-line guy, an energy guy, or I’m filling water bottles,” he said.
Terry, meanwhile, scored 22 goals and 45 points in 35 games last season while leading Denver to the NCAA title. He’s a fifth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks.
Should either make the Olympic team, it wouldn’t be the first time either wore a national team uniform. Both Greenway and Terry played on the U.S. National Team Development Program, winning an U18 world title together in 2015, and then helping the U.S. win the World Junior Championships in January. Greenway was also one of three college players to compete for the U.S. in the senior world championships in May.
That type of youth national team experience could help build familiarity as the team comes together, Granato said, even if there’s a wide range of ages on the final Olympic team.
“Our hockey family, so to speak, the U.S. players all know each other and know of each other and probably have played each other, with or against each other, along the way,” he said.
“I’m very confident in mixing up the three groups of players that we’re pulling from that it won’t take long for them to jump on the ice.”
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.