(Reuters) - Canada unveiled a mostly unknown collection of National Hockey League castaways on Thursday as the men’s national team that will try to bring home a third consecutive Olympic gold medal from the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Certainly there were no Sidney Crosbys or Martin Brodeurs among the 25 players introduced in a low key midday announcement conducted at Hockey Canada headquarters in Calgary.
With the NHL deciding to end its Olympic participation Hockey Canada was forced to cast a wide net to assemble a squad for the Feb. 9-25 Games, cobbling together a team from far flung leagues and countries.
A few of the names like Chris Kelly, who played in 833 NHL games and won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and Derek Roy, who suited up for 738 NHL contests and once scored 32 goals for the Buffalo Sabres, may have a ring of familiarity for Canadian hockey fans.
But most are unknown or forgotten names playing in remote hockey outposts, like Gilbert Brule, taken with the sixth overall selection in the 2005 NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who now earns a living with China-based team Kunlun Red Star in the KHL.
Some like Chris Lee and Chay Genoway, who between them have one combined game of NHL experience, have found jobs in Russia with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Lada Togliatti respectively.
”These guys that are going to be named here today they earned it,“ general manager Sean Burke said. ”We saw them play, we had numerous events and everyone of them represented our jersey like we expect Canadians to do.
“This team will make Canada proud, it will be a gold medal effort and there won’t be one guy that puts that jersey on that this isn’t the highlight of their hockey career.”
After the IOC opened its doors to the NHL at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Canada has re-exerted its status as ice hockey’s super power by taking gold in 2002, 2010 and 2014 but returning home empty-handed in 1998 and 2006.
The last time the Olympic ice hockey tournament was played without NHL players was at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games where Canada lost to Sweden in the final.
Without NHL players Canada struggled to find the top of the Olympic podium, enduring a 50-year gold medal drought before finally reclaiming the crown of Olympic champions at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
”We all who have played this game come from somewhere,“ Canada CEO Tom Renney told reporters. ”The Olympics are special, you can ask anyone from any discipline who has participated for their country at an Olympic Games and they will tell you it is an honor and a privilege and they will never forget it regardless of the outcome.
“That is certainly the case here today.”
Editing by Ed Osmond