For the first time in 20 years, there will be no current National Hockey League stars taking the ice for the United States at the Olympic Winter Games.
But that doesn’t mean the team will be lacking for a veteran presence.
Brian Gionta, a forward who turned down NHL contract offers this season in order to pursue an Olympic medal, took the next step toward that dream on Monday.
That was when the 38-year-old Gionta was named to his second U.S. Olympic Team as part of the new-look roster that will compete at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Gionta played on the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team that finished eighth in Torino, scoring four goals in six games.
Gionta is the only Olympian on the 23-player roster, but not the only NHL vet. James Wisniewski and Jim Slater both have over 500 NHL games under their belts. Both also have international experience, highlighted by Wisniewski winning gold with Team USA at the 2004 World Junior Championship. Several other players have had NHL and international cameos.
This is the first time since 1998 that the NHL is not allowing any players under contract to an NHL team to participate in the Olympics.
For that reason, the 2018 team was selected from a pool of about 100 players not on NHL contracts who were either based in Europe, playing in the American Hockey League or other minor leagues, or playing college hockey.
Highlighting the contingent of college players are Jordan Greenway, a 20-year-old left wing at Boston University, and 20-year-old forward Troy Terry from the University of Denver.
Greenway and Terry both helped Team USA win gold medals at the 2014 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, and Greenway also played for the senior team at the 2017 IIHF World Championship.
Joining Greenway and Terry from the college ranks are defenseman Will Borgen of St. Cloud State and forward Ryan Donato of Harvard.
The lone goalie on the roster – thus far – is Ryan Zapolski, 31, one of the top netminders in Europe’s Kontinental Hockey League. Zapolski plays for Jokerit and leads the league with eight shutouts.
Three current AHL players — forwards Chris Bourque of Hershey, Bobby Butler of Milwaukee and John McCarthy of San Jose were also selected to the team.
Five players currently in Switzerland’s National League made the team, including defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti and forwards Mark Arcobello, Broc Little, Garrett Roe and Slater.
Five players from the KHL also made Team USA: Zapolski, defensemen Jonathon Blum and Matt Gilroy, and forwards Brian O’Neill and Ryan Stoa. Gilroy and O’Neill are teammates of Zapolski’s on Jokerit.
Defensemen Chad Billins, Ryan Gunderson and Noah Welch currently play in the Swedish Hockey League.
Defenseman Wisniewski and forward Chad Kolarik play in Germany.
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Team USA relied primarily on European players when it went 0-3 at the 2017 Deutschland Cup in November, the only pre-Olympic competition on the Team USA schedule. The Americans outshot Slovakia, Russia and Germany by a combined 90-60 while being outscored 12-4.
Team USA’s Olympic schedule is set for PyeongChang. The Americans open preliminary-round play against Slovenia at 7:10 a.m. ET on Feb. 14 from the Kwandong Hockey Centre, then take on Slovakia at 10:10 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, followed by a 7:10 a.m. game on Feb. 17 against Olympic Athletes from Russia at Gangneung.
Quarterfinals are slated for Feb. 21, semifinals for Feb. 23, the bronze-medal match for Feb. 24 and the gold-medal final for Feb. 25. All playoff rounds are at Gangneung.
With NHL players, Team USA finished fourth in 2014, earned silver in 2010, finished eighth in 2006, took silver in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and finished sixth in 1998, the first time the NHL shut down to allow its players to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.
A team of amateurs famously won Team USA’s last gold medal in men’s hockey, that being the Miracle on Ice team of 1980.
Jim Johansson, a two-time Olympian and USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations, is the Team USA general manager, with Ben Smith the director of player personnel.
Tony Granato, the men’s head coach at the University of Wisconsin and an Olympic teammate of Johansson in 1988, is Team USA’s Olympic head coach. He is assisted by Keith Allain, Ron Rolston, four-time Olympian and silver medalist Chris Chelios, and three-time Olympian and silver medalist Scott Young.
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.