The bright side to no NHL players at 2018 Olympics
Look, there’s no denying it. The lack of NHL players at the 2018 Winter Olympics is a bummer. The World Cup was great at times, but still not a match for the best-on-best tournament for Olympic gold.
One player’s loss is another player’s gain, and looking over the rosters for Canada and the U.S., you might not see great talent, but it’s easy to spot the potential for some wonderful stories.
Even with Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla deciding not to give it one more shot, there are some opportunities for players to enjoy one more moment in the spotlight.
Brian Gionta, team USA captain, ranks as one of the best examples of former NHLers who are going for one more moment of glory. As this NBC Olympics profile reminds us, Gionta represented the U.S. in 2006, so he likely also wants to redeem a run that sputtered without a medal.
[USA Hockey announces 2018 Olympic men’s roster]
He’s not the only name you might remember, especially if you follow the game closely. Wojtek Wolski is one of the stories of the men’s hockey tournament, as he goes from broken neck to a chance at Olympic glory. Plenty of former teammates are happy for these guys, like Brad Marchand with Chris Kelly:
Chances for redemption
Gilbert Brule may never shake the label of first-round bust.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made him the sixth pick of the 2005 NHL Draft, one choice after Carey Price and five before the Kings selected Anze Kopitar. Brule ended up generating just 95 points in 299 NHL regular-season games before continuing his career overseas. He last played in the NHL in 2013-14, and barely: he failed to score a point in three games with the then-Phoenix Coyotes.
[Check out Canada’s men’s roster here.]
Not every prospect pans out, and Brule’s been able to ply his trade as a productive KHL scorer.
Even so, how great would it be for him to shed that bust label - at least in the eyes of some - by generating a rollicking run for Canada? These are some of the fascinating, maybe even heartwarming stories that could come from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Be honest: that kind of beats “Sidney Crosby padding his Hall of Fame resume,” doesn’t it?
That one moment
Speaking of heartwarming stories, it’s tough to top Bobby Butler sharing the Olympic good news with his dad:
There are players who were once prominent and are chasing another glory run. There are the Brules of the world: prospects who didn’t quite make it in the NHL. And then there are guys who maybe got a cup of coffee at the NHL level, yet were never expected to do much.
[USA Hockey, Hockey Canada reveal 2018 Olympic jerseys]
This tournament won’t just feature “dream come true” moments. In most cases, they’ll also literally be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Every kid dreams of playing for their country in the Olympics. I never thought it would happen for me. Words can’t describe how proud and honored I am to represent 🇺🇸 in PyeongChang. Let’s go USA!— Ryan Zapolski (@rzapolski) January 1, 2018
As much as Olympic competition is about finding out who’s the best of the best, there’s also an amateur spirit, at least in its roots. Some of that carries over in sports that only seem to get mainstream attention during the Winter or Summer Olympics.
In the grand scheme of things, most of us still hope that NHL players return to the mix, preferably as early as 2022.
That said, hockey is still wonderful, especially when it’s played with emotion and spirit. In that regard, the 2018 Winter Olympics will be tough to beat, and the stories may very well end up being unforgettable.