Staal, Power, Ho-Sang among players named to Canada’s men’s Olympic team

Hockey Canada announced its 2022 Olympic men’s roster on Tuesday morning (a day after an IIHF leak) and you’ll notice some familiar names on the list.

Eric Staal is the biggest name among the group, followed by 2021 NHL No. 1 overall pick Owen Power, 2021 No. 3 overall pick Mason McTavish, and Toronto Marlies forward Josh Ho-Sang.

Power and McTavish, both 18, will be the first teens to play for Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team since Paul Kariya (1994) and Eric Lindros (1992), according to Olympedia.org.

Maxim Noreau, Mat Robinson, and Eric O’Dell are the only three players who were on the 2018 squad that won bronze in Pyeongchang.

Forwards

Daniel Carr (HC Lugano, National League)
Adam Cracknell (Bakerfield, AHL)
David Desharnais (HC Fribourg-Gottéron, National League)
Landon Ferraro (Kölner Haie, DEL)
Josh Ho-Sang (Toronto, AHL)
Corban Knight (Avangard Omsk, KHL)
Jack McBain (Boston College, NCAA)
Mason McTavish (Hamilton, OHL)
Eric O’Dell (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)
Eric Staal (Iowa, AHL)
Ben Street (EHC Red Bull München, DEL)
Adam Tambellini (Rögle BK, Swedish Hockey League)
Jordan Weal (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Daniel Winnik (Genève-Servette HC, National League)

[Pass or Fail: USA, Canada unveil 2022 Olympic hockey jerseys]

Defensemen

Mark Barberio (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Jason Demers (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Brandon Gormley (Lokomotiv, KHL)
Alex Grant (Jokerit, KHL)
Maxim Noreau (ZSC Lions, National League)
Owen Power (University of Michigan, NCAA)
Mat Robinson (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL)
Tyler Wotherspoon (Utica, AHL)

Goalies

Devon Levi (Northeastern University, NCAA)
Matt Tomkins (Frölunda HC, Swedish Hockey League)
Edward Pasquale (Lokomotiv, KHL)

The IIHF decided to allow men’s and women’s Olympic teams to have a six-player taxi squad. Justin Pogge (G, Kölner Haie, DEL), Morgan Ellis (D, Eisbären Berlin, DEL), John Gilmour (D, CSKA Moscow, KHL), Chris DiDomenico (F, HC Fribourg-Gottéron, NL), Kent Johnson (F, University of Michigan, NCAA) and Max Véronneau (F, Leksands IF, SHL) will make up the extra players.

Canada’s men will be coached by Claude Julien. Shane Doan will serve as general manager. The two replaced Jon Cooper and Doug Armstrong as the team’s leadership tandem after the NHL withdrew from participating in the Beijing Games last month.

Nolan Baumgartner, Tyler Dietrich, and former Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton will serve as assistants.

[MORE: NHL players disappointed to miss 2022 Winter Olympics]

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group BROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

Canada schedule:
Thurs. Feb. 10 vs. Germany – 8:10 a.m. ET
Fri. Feb. 11 vs. U.S. – 11:10 p.m. ET
Sun. Feb. 13 vs. China – 8:10 a.m. ET

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here
Day-by-day guide to the 2022 Winter Olympics
How to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics

NBCUniversal will present a Winter Olympics-record 2,800+ hours of coverage across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app when the XXIV Olympic Winter Games from Beijing, China, begin this February.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

U.S. coach David Quinn gets second chance to go to Olympics

David Quinn walked into Boston University coach Jack Parker’s office in the summer of 1987 and got news that destroyed his Olympic dream.

Quinn learned he was a hemophiliac and was told his hockey-playing career was over.

“It was a big blow,” said Quinn, now 55. “It was devastating in a lot of ways, life-altering. People have put up with a lot worse than I have in life, that’s for sure, but at 20 years old still a tough pill to swallow.”

More than three decades since the rare blood disorder kept him from playing at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Quinn is getting a second Olympic opportunity as the U.S. coach in Beijing. It’s also a chance of another kind for Quinn to get back into coaching after being fired last summer by the New York Rangers following three seasons dedicated to a rebuild.

“I really think Quinny can be a great coach in the NHL,” said veteran defenseman Brendan Smith, who played for him for three years in New York. “The situation he was put in was an unwinnable situation, really, and I’m excited for him to go over there. I think he will do a very good job.”

Much of Quinn’s coaching philosophy stems from his playing career and the diagnosis that took it away. He was a first-round pick of Minnesota in 1984, played on the 1986 world junior team that won the first U.S. medal in that tournament’s history and was a a top college defenseman with legitimate pro prospects.

A handful of injuries that were all blood-related pushed Quinn to get tested. Knowing how bright Quinn’s future was, BU teammate and now U.S. Olympic assistant Scott Young said of the abrupt end: “Nobody saw that coming. That was just a shock to everybody.”

“After you throw a pity party for yourself, I think you try to figure out what’s next,” Quinn said. He reflected on how Parker and previous coaches like Ben Smith, Larry Pietila and Peter Bragdon made up such a big part of his support system at a difficult time. He wanted to follow that same path to stay in hockey.

Quinn gave it a go for 79 more games in the minors in the early ’90s thanks to a barrage of new medications and tried and failed to make the Olympic team in 1992. With his playing career over for good, he became an assistant at Northeastern in 1993 before moving on to Nebraska-Omaha and returning to BU.

Three years as an American Hockey League coach and one as a Colorado Avalanche assistant led him back to BU as coach for five seasons before getting the job with the Rangers in 2018.

New York had launched into a full-scale rebuild before hiring Quinn, who was seen as one of the sport’s up-and-coming coaching minds. He coached there for three seasons until the Rangers cleaned house, dumping president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton. New head of hockey operations Chris Drury fired Quinn last summer.

“New York sent out a letter that they’re going to bring along the young guys, and at all costs,” said Smith, who’s now with Carolina. “That becomes very difficult, especially in the team dynamic because then young guys can get away with making mistakes and older guys can’t and older guys get punished and then you make a divide of the room and a divide from the coaches.”

Even through that, Smith and others lauded Quinn for handling the situation as best he could through clear, consistent communication. The ability to deliver messages is considered one of his biggest strengths going into an Olympics with a roster of 15 college players and 10 professionals.

“He has a pretty good understanding of where the older guys are coming from, but also as a younger guy playing in New York I felt comfortable talking with him in a 1-on-1 conversation,” said defenseman Neal Pionk, who played for Quinn in 2018-19 is now with Winnipeg. “We had a lot of young guys in New York, so he made sure it was a point that the young guys were able to go up to him and have a conversation without being hesitant.”

There is not much hesitancy about Quinn, who went right to work for USA Hockey, initially as an assistant on Mike Sullivan’s Olympic staff before the NHL withdrew and thrust him into this role. Quinn visited a few training camps to observe and talk to other coaches, watched plenty of game film for scouting purposes — and could not sit still.

“He’s a constant sponge at trying to find out how to make himself better, and he’ll keep doing that,” said Davidson, now the president of hockey operations for Columbus. “He doesn’t sit around and let the moss grow underneath his feet. He’s a goer in a very good way.”

Gorton, who is now running Montreal’s front office, said coaching the U.S. team is a perfect situation.

“He’s a very good hockey coach. He’ll get another job eventually,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity for him to go on a big stage and show what he can do.”

That could be as soon as next season, depending on how the U.S. plays and the coaching carousel around the NHL. But Quinn is too busy getting ready to live out his longstanding Olympic dream to worry about that.

“Whatever comes from winning a gold medal, I’ll take,” he said. “Whatever comes from that, I’ll live with it and I’ll embrace it.”

Beijing Olympics will showcase hockey’s next generation

The disappointment of the NHL not participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics quickly turned to excitement for a handful of U.S. players at the world junior championship.

Matty Beniers, Jake Sanderson and Brock Faber were together in Red Deer, Alberta, when USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck asked them to go to Beijing.

“I was kind of blown out of my shoes,” Beniers said.

All three said yes. While Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon will not get the chance to play in their first Olympics, the men’s hockey tournament in Beijing could be a showcase for the next generation of talent, with 2021 top pick Owen Power expected to suit up for Canada and Beniers, Sanderson and Faber among eight U.S. players under the age of 21.

“NHL players won’t be there, but it’s still going to be some pretty good hockey and it’ll be really fun,” Sanderson said. “There’s going to be really good talent there. To play with Matty and Brock Faber (and goalie) Drew Commesso, I’m super excited.”

The precedent is there for the youngest players to be among the best at the Olympics.

When the NHL decided not to send players to Pyeongchang in 2018, it gave Russian sniper Kirill Kaprizov, Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen and winger Eeli Tolvanen, and American forwards Troy Terry, Ryan Donato and Jordan Greenway opportunities to stand out. Kaprizov and Tolvanen were the second- and third-leading scorers in that tournament, while Donato led the U.S. in goals and Terry in assists.

[MORE: USA Hockey unveils 2022 men’s Olympic roster]

While Russia, Finland and other European teams are going with mostly older rosters from professional leagues, the U.S. figured the kids are all right: 15 of the 25 players named to the team are currently in college, including 13 who have already been drafted by an NHL team.

Vanbiesbrouck said the young players will have an immediate impact on the team. Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, who broadcasted five Olympics, figures the next step is the NHL.

“You never know: They could be here next year or the following year,” Davidson said. “This is a stage for them.”

It’s also something of a do-over after the world juniors were canceled midstream because of virus concerns. That tournament was shut down roughly a week after the NHL withdrew from Beijing, so the opportunity snatched away became more motivation for Beniers, Sanderson, Faber and Commesso to commit to the Olympics.

“One door closes and another opens,” said Beniers, who is expected to be the youngest player in the tournament. “Something that not many people get the chance to participate in.”

Participating in 2018 did wonders for the likes of Terry, Greenway and Kaprizov. Terry leads the Anaheim Ducks in goals and points this season, while Kaprizov is teammates with Greenway on the Wild and is tops on Minnesota in scoring.

While McDavid, MacKinnon and Matthews point to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the 2010 Vancouver Games as the most memorable Olympic moment from childhood, many of the young U.S. players this time look more at T.J. Oshie’s shootout in Sochi as the iconic highlight. For 20-year-old Brendan Brisson, the performances of Terry, Greenway and Donato in Pyeongchang stick out in large part because they helped U.S. management learn to trust college players.

“I loved watching last time, the U.S., seeing those college guys have success,” Brisson said. “They led in goals and assists and played a really big role on their team, so it’s just something that we have to work towards and maybe we can be like that in Beijing.”

It’s possible because coach David Quinn is certainly not going to bury young players at the end of the bench or scratch them from important games. Beniers, Brisson and Sanderson could be among the U.S leaders in ice time at the Olympics before going back to college and soon on to pro careers.

“The great part about it is these guys are skilled players with a hardness to their game that are committed to playing in all three zones,” Quinn said. “And that’s why they were drafted where they were. That’s why they’re going to be big parts of the team we have, and that’s why they’ve got great futures in the NHL.”

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group B: ROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

U.S. men’s Olympic schedule

Thurs. Feb. 10: China – 8:10 a.m. ET
Fri. Feb. 11: Canada – 11:10 p.m. ET
Sun. Feb. 13: Germany – 8:10 a.m. ET

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here
2022 women’s Olympic roster
Day-by-day guide to the 2022 Winter Olympics
How to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics

NBCUniversal will present a Winter Olympics-record 2,800+ hours of coverage across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app when the XXIV Olympic Winter Games from Beijing, China, begin this February.

Hockey Canada names Julien coach, Doan GM of men’s Olympic team

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Claude Julien was named coach of Canada’s men’s hockey team for the Beijing Olympics on Friday, and Shane Doan was named general manager.

Doan and Julien replace St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong and Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who vacated their positions on the national team when the NHL pulled out of an agreement to send its players to the Olympics last month.

“We are excited to announce our experienced management group and coaching staff that will lead Canada’s men’s Olympic team at the 2022 Olympics,” Tom Renney, chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said in a statement.

Julien has a 667-445-162 coaching record in 1,274 regular-season NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. He won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.

Julien was fired last February from his second stint coaching the Canadiens.

Doan, the Arizona Coyotes’ hockey development officer, was assistant GM of the Canadian team that won gold at least year’s world championships. As a player, he represented Canada at six world championships — winning gold three times — and competed at the Turin Olympics in 2006.

USA Hockey unveils 2022 men’s Olympic roster

Top NHL prospects Matty Beniers, Brendan Brisson, and Jake Sanderson were among the players named to the U.S. men’s 2022 Olympic hockey team on Thursday.

The college-heavy roster sees 15 NCAA players, five from the Kontinental Hockey League, two from the Swedish Hockey League, two from the American Hockey League, and one from Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

Forward Brian O’Neill is the only player who was a part of the roster for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

FORWARDS
Nick Abruzzese (Harvard / NCAA)
Kenny Agostino (Torpedo / KHL)
Matty Beniers (Michigan / NCAA)
Brendan Brisson (Michigan / NCAA)
Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth / NCAA)
Sean Farrell (Harvard / NCAA)
Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State / NCAA)
Matthew Knies (Minnesota / NCAA)
Marc McLaughlin (Boston College / NCAA)
Ben Meyers (Minnesota / NCAA)
Andy Miele (Torpedo / KHL)
Brian O’Neill (Jokerit / KHL)
Nick Shore (Novosibirsk / KHL)
Nathan Smith (Minnesota State / NCAA)

DEFENSEMEN
Brian Cooper (IK Oskarshamn / SHL)
Brock Faber (Minnesota / NCAA)
Drew Helleson (Boston College / NCAA)
Steven Kampfer (Ak Bars Kazan / KHL)
Aaron Ness (Providence / AHL)
Nick Perbix (St. Cloud State / NCAA)
Jake Sanderson (North Dakota / NCAA)
David Warsofsky (Ingolstadt / DEL)

GOALTENDERS
Drew Commesso (Boston University / NCAA)
Strauss Mann (Skelleftea / SHL)
Pat Nagle (Lehigh Valley / AHL)

[Pass or Fail: USA, Canada unveil 2022 Olympic hockey jerseys]

Former Boston University and Rangers head coach David Quinn will run the bench along with assistants Mike Hastings, Brett Larson, Scott Young, and David Lassonde. Alex Dawes will serve as video coach.

“We’re excited about the roster we’ve put together,” said general manager John Vanbiesbrouck. “The Olympics are the biggest stage in sports and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm our players have to represent their country. We’re fortunate to have a deep talent pool — thanks in part to all the great work of our volunteers in communities across the nation — and with the mix of players who are part of our team, we’re looking forward to competing for a gold medal in Beijing.”

According to NBC Olympics’ Nick Zaccardi, this is the youngest U.S. men’s Olympic hockey roster since 1994. It also features the first teenagers (five) on the men’s side since 1992 when Scott Lachance and Keith Tkachuk suited up for the Albertville Olympics. Beniers is the youngest men’s Olympic hockey player since 1984 (Ed Olczyk).

This 2022 Olympic men’s roster is similar to the one USA Hockey sent in 2018. Due to the lack of NHL participation, the team was made up of players plying their trade in Europe, a handful of collegians, and Brian Gionta, who was not affiliated with any team at the time.

The American men went 1-1-1 in the group stage and won their qualification game against Slovakia before being knocked out of the tournament by the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.

The NHL had originally agreed with the NHLPA to send players to the Olympics for the first time since 2014, but rising COVID-19 cases around the league opened the door for an opt-out clause to be used. As conditions reached a point where, at the time, over 50 games had been postponed, there was too much disruption to the regular-season schedule.

[MORE: NHL players disappointed to miss 2022 Winter Olympics]

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group BROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

U.S. men’s Olympic schedule

Thurs. Feb. 10: China – 8:10 a.m. ET
Fri. Feb. 11: Canada – 11:10 p.m. ET
Sun. Feb. 13: Germany – 8:10 a.m. ET

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here
2022 women’s Olympic roster
Day-by-day guide to the 2022 Winter Olympics
How to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics

NBCUniversal will present a Winter Olympics-record 2,800+ hours of coverage across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app when the XXIV Olympic Winter Games from Beijing, China, begin this February.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Eric Staal signs tryout deal with AHL Iowa as Olympics loom

Eric Staal has signed a professional tryout contract with the AHL’s Iowa Wild as he begins his preparation to be part of Canada’s 2022 Olympic men’s roster.

The 37-year-old Staal last played with the Canadiens during their run to the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Final. He was on the ice July 7 when the Lightning clinched the Cup and then went unsigned after the NHL free agent market opened in the summer.

Staal’s AHL stint is expected to begin this weekend. Should he be named to Canada’s men’s roster, he’ll join up with the team  in Beijing for the Olympics in a few weeks. Canada opens up the tournament Feb. 10 against Germany.

Hockey Canada is expected to announce the full men’s roster in the next week.

Staal has played 1,293 NHL games with five teams. The only time in his career he’s played in the AHL was during the 2004-05 lockout season.

The 2022 Olympics will be Staal’s second in his hockey career. He was part of the 2010 Canadian squad that won gold over the U.S. in Vancouver. The forward finished the tournament with a goal and six points in seven games. He last represented Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Championship.

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group BROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here.

The 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, China will air on the networks of NBC beginning Friday, Feb. 4.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

U.S., Canada women eager to resume fierce hockey rivalry

Forward Brianna Decker was unable to contain her enthusiasm in being selected to represent the United States in hockey for a third Olympics. She then bluntly declared the team’s one and only objective heading to the Beijing Games next month.

“Our business isn’t finished until we come back with a gold medal,” Decker said.

Though she didn’t have to say it, Canada — who else? — is standing in their way.

“I don’t know if it’s unfinished business, we’ve got business,” Canada coach Troy Ryan said when informed of Decker’s comments. “We’re going there as business as usual and we’re trying to win the gold.”

One of sports’ fiercest rivalries is set to resume when the 10-nation tournament opens on Feb. 3.

The United States is the defending Olympic champion after beating Canada in a nail-biting 3-2 shootout win in South Korea in 2018 to end Canada’s run of four Olympic titles. And yet, Canada is the reigning world champion after punching back with a 3-2 overtime win in August to end USA’s run of five consecutive titles.

“Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve lost to them,” Decker said. “It’s really a sad thing, but you know, sometimes you’ve got to lose to get a little bit more out of your team and out of yourself.”

“To be honest,” countered Canada’s captain Marie-Philip Poulin, “it’s going to be fun.”

And intense.

It was no surprise to anyone when the pushing, shoving and cross-checking resumed almost immediately at Allentown, Pennsylvania, in October in their first meeting after the world championships.

“Yeah, and you know what the best part is? We have them eight more times,” American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield said with a laugh, referring to what was supposed to be a nine-game Rivalry Series. It was cut to six games after the Canadians experienced a COVID-19 breakout.

Canada finished the shortened series going 4-1-1 against the Americans, with four games decided by one goal, and three in overtime.

Encouraging as the results were, they meant little to Ryan, who noted: “If you look at the history of these events and the results at the Olympics, there’s no positive correlation often.”

At first glance, Canada appears to have the advantage with speed and experience, playing an up-tempo, transition attack Ryan introduced upon taking over in August 2019. His system places an emphasis on play-making defenders turning up ice and finding open players in the neutral zone to set up odd-man breaks.

The U.S. relies more on a puck-control offensive style to set up in-close chances from Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter, who returns after being left off the 2018 roster.

Barring what would be considered a major upset, the rest of the field continues playing catchup at the women’s level, with Finland, Switzerland, Russia and potentially the up-and-coming Czech Republic vying for bronze.

The Finns beat Switzerland to win bronze at the world championships. At the 2019 world championships on home soil, Finland upset Canada in the semifinals and came a disallowed goal in overtime away from beating the Americans before settling for the silver.

“If we play 10 games in a row, we’re not going to be the winning candidate in all of them,” Puputti said. “But then we showed two years ago, when the right game comes in the right moment it can happen. So I think it was really a confidence booster.”

DECADES OF DOMINANCE

The U.S. and Canada have met in the final of 19 of 20 world championships, with Canada winning 11 titles to America’s eight. Twelve gold-medal games have been decided by one goal, with nine in overtime or shootouts.

The two nations have met in the final of five of six Olympic tournaments, with the exception of the 2006 Torino Games, when Canada defeated Sweden, and the U.S. won bronze.

OLYMPIC DEBUTS

Denmark and the Czech Republic will make their first Winter Games’ appearances after winning qualifying tournaments in November. The Czechs, who went 3-0, are considered strong contenders with a youth-laden roster that includes six players currently at U.S. colleges.

Sweden is making its sixth Olympic appearance. It defeated France 1-0 to clinch its pool after facing relegation following a ninth-place finish at the 2019 world championships.

MULLER BOOST

An ankle injury that sidelined Swiss star forward Alina Muller at the world championships in August could be the boost the team needed. The Swiss rallied for a 3-2 overtime win over Russia in the quarterfinal before a 4-0 loss to Canada in the semis.

Swiss coach Colin Muller (no relation) was encouraged by how his players learned how to compete without Muller.

Alina Muller, who was 15 at the 2014 Sochi Games became the youngest women’s hockey player to win a medal, is fully healed and eager to make her third Olympic appearance. She is completing her senior year at Northeastern.

RATY RETURN?

Finland goalie Noora Raty could be a late addition after rejoining the team for two wins against the Czech Republic in December. Raty had been sidelined by a back injury in February. The 32-year-old has represented Finland at four Winter Games and holds the Olympic record among goalies with 20 games played. The Finns are set to announce their roster on Jan. 20.

No NHL boosts Russian hopes for Olympic gold in men’s hockey

When the National Hockey League and its players agreed to pause the season and participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics, it came with the caveat of pandemic conditions not making it impractical to go to China.

Seven weeks before puck drop at what was supposed to be the first Olympics with NHL players since 2014, the league pulled the plug amid a rash of postponements for coronavirus-related reasons. Instead of getting the world’s best on Olympic ice for the sixth time since 1998, the tournament will now feature players from the college ranks in the U.S., professional leagues across Europe and the minors in North America.

The Russians are again favored to win gold after beating Germany in the 2018 final, thanks to the talent coming from the home-based Kontinental Hockey League that will shut down for the Olympics. The lack of NHL players throws even more uncertainty into the competition and the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden are all thinking they have a realistic chance of winning.

“You look at the 2018 Olympics, it was just very competitive — there was a lot of parity,” U.S. coach David Quinn said. “The Russians are perceived to be the team with a leg up on everybody just because of the KHL, but they had a hard time (four years ago) with Germany in the gold-medal game. I just think it’s going to be a very, very competitive tournament.”

Four years since the Russians — known as the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — emerged with gold, Germany silver and Canada bronze, things look wide open.

CANADIAN MIGHT

Canada will not have Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon on the same team for the first time as it attemps to win its third gold in the last four Olympics. But the hockey-crazed nation does have a legitimate shot to win thanks to some players with recent NHL experience.

Eric Staal is by far the most experienced and accomplished player expected to take part in the tournament: a veteran of almost 1,400 NHL games who played for Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final last summer. He is already one of just 29 players in the Triple Gold Club as winners of the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and world championship gold medal.

Staal could wear the “C” as Canada’s captain 12 years after the home ice triumph at the Vancouver Olympics that was capped off by Crosby’s famous golden goal to beat the U.S. in overtime.

Other recent NHL players expected to play for Canada include goaltender Devan Dubnyk, defenseman Jason Demers and forward Eric Fehr. Former Canadiens coach Claude Julien is expected to be behind the bench.

MIX-AND-MATCH U.S.

The U.S. is hoping a balance of young college stars and experienced pros in the American Hockey League and Europe adds up to its first Olympic men’s hockey medal since 2010.

That means the likes of North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson and Michigan’s Matty Beniers playing alongside recent former NHL players Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer and Aaron Ness. That’s a far cry from Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones sharing the ice in what the Olympics were supposed to look like, but the expectations are still high internally.

“We’ve got good players all over, whether in the NHL or college hockey: I think we’re going to have a good team,” Sanderson said. “We just got to go there, give our best and expect the best.”

RUSSIAN REDUX

The Russians in 2018 were an All-Star team compared to the rest of the tournament, with soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk and longtime NHL sniper Ilya Kovalchuk skating with two-time Cup champion Slava Voynov and now-Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov.

The 2022 team isn’t as star-studded, but Voynov is back, along with KHL leading scorer Vadim Shipachyov and former NHL forward Mikhail Grigorenko.

After getting shut out of medals in the five Olympics with NHL players — despite Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the tournament on home ice in 2014 — no country benefits more from the NHL not showing up than Russia. The team is looking to win consecutive gold medals for the first time since three in a row from 1984-1992. It will compete as the “Russian Olympic Committee,” part of sanctions for various doping-related issues across multiple sports.

CHINA’S SHOT

China will take part in men’s hockey at the Olympics for the first time as the host country. The team is made up of some homegrown talent and “heritage” players from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere who signed up years ago to represent China in this tournament.

Goalie Jeremy Smith and defenseman Jake Chelios are American. Captain Brandon Yip, defenseman Ryan Sproul and forward Spencer Foo are Canadian. They’ve formed a bond they think will help once play begins.

“One of the advantages that we’ve had is the core group of us have been together for five years, so we have pretty good chemistry,” Yip said. “We think that’s going to be a big advantage over the other teams.”

WHO ELSE?

Finland probably stands the best chance of pulling off an upset, thanks to a team-first style that relies on good goaltending and structure. Recent NHL players Sami Vatanen, Leo Komarov, Markus Granlund and Valtteri Filppula also give Finland a major boost of talent.

Sweden’s team could have ex-NHL goalie Anders Lindback, San Jose Sharks prospect William Eklund, who started the season in North America, along with names familiar to hockey fans such as Jacob de La Rose, Oscar Lindberg and Christian Folin.

Germany is defending a silver medal, but not having 2020 NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl and Seattle Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer will hurt. Switzerland will also miss Nashville captain Roman Josi.

Jake Sanderson to play for U.S.; college stars eye Olympic chance

Jake Sanderson felt bad that he would be missing a handful of games at North Dakota to play at the Olympics.

When he expressed that sentiment to his college teammates and coaches, the star defenseman was greeted with support. It was already an easy choice for Sanderson to suit up for the United States in Beijing, and that made it even simpler.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s kind of something you can’t really pass up. It’s the Olympics. You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to play in the Olympics in your lifetime.”

After the NHL decided to withdraw from the 2022 Games, an opportunity of a lifetime was suddenly available for Sanderson, Michigan’s Owen Power and Matty Beniers, and other players in the U.S. college ranks with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada eyeing the NCAA for top talent to fill their rosters. College players deciding whether to leave school for a few weeks to go to Beijing can look no further than the 2018 Olympics for some strong evidence in the yes column.

Anaheim’s Troy Terry, Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway and Seattle’s Ryan Donato all skated for the U.S. in Pyeongchang on a team made up of mostly older professionals playing in Europe. They’ve since combined to play in 611 NHL games.

“I would tell those guys if they got the chance to cherish it, enjoy and make the most of it,” Donato said. “Coming from college, it was obviously a little nerve-wracking because you have all these guys that have played in the NHL and I think it does do a lot for your confidence realizing that you could hang around with these guys.”

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Sanderson, a Whitefish, Montana, native taken by Ottawa with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, has already accepted his invitation. The top two NHL picks in 2021 —- Power, who went first to Buffalo, and Beniers, who went to Seattle — have each been invited to play for Canada and the U.S., respectively. Michigan teammates Brendan Brisson (U.S.) and Kent Johnson (Canada) are also Olympic candidates.

Greenway and Terry were U.S. candidates when it looked like the NHL was halting its season for almost three weeks to let the world’s best hockey players play in the Olympics for the first time since 2018.

Greenway said he probably would have gone if chosen, especially if virus testing and quarantine restrictions were modified because, like many would-be participants, those were his biggest concerns. That’s the major difference from 2018.

“There’s also other factors that go into it now because of the circumstances and the situation, which I understand,” Greenway said. “I think it is maybe a little bit more of a question. It’s not a no-brainer, let’s say, maybe now. It could be a little bit different for those guys. You take the hockey part alone and the experience and everything that goes into that, it’s a special, special experience.”

U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and coach David Quinn believed the Olympic experience was a strong selling point, even taking pandemic and college duties into account. One additional motivation is that the world junior championship was canceled last month over fears of a virus outbreak, and the Olympics could serve as something of a do-over for that tournament for several players under the age of 20.

Still, Quinn realized trying to convince active college players to go to Beijing is not the same as his days recruiting at Boston University.

“These circumstances are a lot different,” Quinn said. “Leaving the team in the middle of the season and with the COVID situation, there’s a lot of hurdles, a lot of obstacles. But I think everyone wants to play in the Olympics.”

[Pass or Fail: USA, Canada unveil 2022 Olympic hockey jerseys]

Mel Pearson, who is coaching Michigan with a powerhouse roster and a legitimate shot at a national championship, has told players he’s supportive of them going to the Olympics.

“Opportunities like that, they don’t come along that often,” Pearson told reporters last weekend. “We’ll fully support them and look forward to getting them back once they get home with a medal.”

Seeing he’d only miss four games at North Dakota and that quarantine requirements were not nearly as lengthy as had been rumored eased Sanderson’s concerns. He also hopes to be in the NHL soon, and watching Terry, Greenway and Donato play there now is additional incentive.

“You look at those guys and they’re doing very well in the NHL,” Sanderson said. “I think being with the guys and living in the moment there and taking it all in, having fun in the Olympic village, I think the whole experience will be breathtaking, will be fun.”

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group BROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here.

The 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, China will air on the networks of NBC beginning Friday, Feb. 4.

USA Hockey shares roster for 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team

USA Hockey announced the roster (23 players) for the 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team during the second intermission of the 2022 Winter Classic on Saturday. They’re aiming to win gold again after doing so at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Fans at Target Field would likely be delighted to hear that the University of Minnesota boasts eight members of the 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team.

USA Hockey shares roster for 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team

USA Hockey notes that 15 of the 23 members of the 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team are making repeat Olympic appearances. Here they are, listed with their hometowns and Olympic appearances:

Cayla Barnes (Eastvale, Calif./2018), Megan Bozek (Buffalo Grove, Ill./2014), Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn./2018), Dani Cameranesi (Plymouth, Minn./2018), Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass./2014), Alex Cavallini (Delafield, Wis./2018), Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill./2018, 2014), Brianna Decker (Dousman, Wis./2018, 2014), Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo./2018), Megan Keller (Farmington, Mich./2018), Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis./2018, 2014), Hilary Knight, (Sun Valley, Idaho/2018, 2014, 2010), Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn./2018), Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn./2018) and Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn./2018, 2014).

Meanwhile, eight players are set to make their first Olympic appearances (again, with hometowns in parenthesis):

Jesse Compher (Northbrook, Ill.), Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.), Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.), Caroline Harvey (Salem, N.H.), Abbey Murphy (Evergreen Park, Ill.), Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.), Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.) and Grace Zumwinkle (Excelsior, Minn.).

Here are a few other notes about the 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team, via USA Hockey:

  • Hilary Knight is set to participate in her fourth Olympic run. In doing so, Knight joined Jenny Potter, Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu as the only women in U.S. Olympic hockey history to make four appearances.
  • The average age of the team is 25.9 years old. Two players are 19 (Caroline Harvey and Abbey Murphy), while Knight is the oldest at 32.
  • The 2022 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team is scheduled to begin group play against Finland on Feb. 3.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.