By Steve Silverman
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There are no NHL superstars participating in this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
That’s not a surprise, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman got his wish last year when the league decided not to take a two-plus week break in the schedule and send its players half a world away.
The time for debating the benefit – or lack thereof – of such a move is in the past. The quality of the hockey is not going to come close to what we saw in Vancouver in 2010 or Sochi in 2014.
But that doesn’t mean the hockey won’t be compelling. This is a much more wide-open tournament than we have seen in the past. The action begins Wednesday.
Canada and the United States do not have dominant teams, but that doesn’t mean either nation can’t win a medal of some color.
The American team is made up largely of minor leaguers and college players, although its best player is likely to be former NHL star Brian Gionta, who had 15 years in the league with the Devils, Canadiens and Sabres.
Gionta has the speed, quickness and know-how to score key goals in a spectacular manner, but what he can’t do is carry the team for games at a time. He needs the support of players such as Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway and Bobby Sanguinetti.
Donato has game-breaking ability and could be one of the more explosive players on the American roster.
Donato was selected by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 2016 draft, and he could be a key player for that team as soon as next season. Donato had 15 points with Harvard in 10 games this year before he moved on to the national team. He scored 40 points for the Crimson a year ago.
Greenway is the first African-American to play on the U.S. Olympic hockey team, and the 6-foot-6, 229-pound forward from Boston University is thrilled to take on such an important role in Olympic history.
In addition to the social significance, Greenway will be key for the U.S. because he will provide a strong, physical presence.
Sanguinetti was a first-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2006, but he was never able to establish an NHL presence.
He knows he is getting a great opportunity in Pyeongchang. He has put his NHL disappointment in the past and just wants to contribute to the U.S. effort.
Instead of going to Pyeongchang with Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Patrice Bergeron and Carey Price, the Canadian team will be competing with Derek Roy, Wojtek Wolski, Rene Bourque and Ben Scrivens.
Roy played the majority of his NHL career with the Sabres before moving on to Dallas, Vancouver, St. Louis, Nashville and Edmonton.
Roy has been playing in Sweden this season, and he has registered 10 goals and 20 assists in 37 games with Linkoping.
Bourque is a solid goal scorer who netted 27 goals in back-to-back seasons earlier in his career with the Calgary Flames. He has also been playing in Sweden, and the 6-2, 216-pound forward needs to bring a physical presence.
Scrivens has been an up-and-down goalie throughout his NHL career, and the Canadians are hoping he will be able to hold his own in Pyeongchang. He has been playing in the KHL season season and has a .917 save percentage.
Whether they have NHL players or not, Canada always expects its hockey team to win the gold medal. However, when the roster is studied, there’s no way to believe that Scrivens will give the Canadians good enough goaltending to bring home the gold.
The best team – at least on paper – belongs to the Olympic Athletes from Russia — the designation given to Russia after the county’s Olympic committee was suspended amid a doping scandal. The Russians should be in medal contention thanks to the presence of Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and a slew of talented KHL players.
However, the team to beat is Sweden. While Henrik Lundqvist won’t be in net for the Swedes, brother Joel Lundqvist is a big-time scorer who has a chance to become one of the tournament’s best players.
Silver: Olympic Athletes from Russia
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