By The Numbers: 2018 Winter Olympics
You won’t find Sidney Crosby. Don’t look for Alexander Ovechkin, Aleksander Barkov, Connor McDavid or any other NHL star.
For the first time since 1994, the Winter Olympics, which began Thursday, will be without current NHL players. Most people will tune out Olympic hockey this year, especially since the games will be played in the wee hours of the late night/early morning Eastern Standard Time.
But that doesn’t mean this year’s Olympic hockey tournament in South Korea can’t be competitive and compelling, exhilarating and exciting.
Lake Placid in 1980, you might recall, had no NHL players, and that locale delivered a rather miraculous result, USA over the Soviet Union.
One thing is for sure: History will be made in this year’s tournament as Jordan Greenway, a 6-5, 240-pound forward, becomes the first black player ever to play on the USA Olympic hockey team.
Anson Carter, a former NHL player who will be an in-studio hockey analyst for NBC during the Olympic coverage, told colorofhockey.com that Greenway has earned his way to South Korea.
“You don’t find players like him who are so big, strong and fast,” Carter said of the Boston University junior who was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the second round in 2015.
“I don’t think it’s a token, ‘Here kid, we’re going to try to get our black quota of players up so we can get your story out there.’
“That’s not how hockey works.”
Besides Greenway, here are more things to know about this year’s men’s and women’s Olympic hockey tournaments:
▪ The gold medal game, set for 12:10 a.m. on Feb. 25, will likely feature Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) against Canada, which has won two straight Olympics. According to Bovada, Russia is a 1-1 favorite followed by 9-2 Canada 9-2 Sweden, 8-1 Finland and 9-1 Czech Republic.
▪ USA will get a major test on Feb. 17 at 7:10 a.m. when it faces Russia. Noteworthy USA names include former 48-goal scorer Brian Gionta, 39, and Chris Bourque, son of former NHL star Ray Bourque.
▪ The Russians, bounced in the quarterfinals the past two Olympics, boast ex-NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russia also features 15 players from the top team in the Kontinental Hockey League, the 46-4-4 SKA St. Petersburg.
▪ True hockey fans will be paying close attention to Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a supremely talented 17-year-old who is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. He’s been compared favorably to Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson.
▪ Canada is the most proven team in the field, having won 20 straight Olympic games and four consecutive Olympic gold medals. In all, Canada brings back 14 players from its 2014 team, four more than USA. The teams will meet in a preliminary game Feb. 14 at 10:10 p.m.
▪ Team USA, which won gold in the inaugural 1998 tournament, have lost in the final to Canada in three of the past four Olympics. In 2014, USA led the gold-medal game 2-0 over Canada 2-0. The USA missed a would-be empty net goal off the post with 54 seconds left. Canada seized on that and rallied to win gold.
▪ If form holds, USA and Canada will meet for the gold at 11 p.m. on Feb. 21. USA won world championships in 2005, 2009 and 2013, so they are capable. But Canada beat USA in the four most recent exhibition games.
▪ Sisters Hannah, 24, and Marissa Brandt, 25, are both competing … on different teams. In 1992, when Marissa was four months old, she was adopted by Greg and Robin Brandt. After Marissa moved to their home in Minnesota, Hannah was born. Marissa will compete under her birth name, Park Yoon-Jung.
▪ After 70 years of division between them, the hockey teams from South and North Korea will be unified. The team will be coached by a Canadian, Sarah Murray, who put together a three-page dictionary, translating English hockey terms into South Korean and North Korean. The team formed just two weeks ago.
▪ Individual stars to watch include Canada’s Marie-Phillip Poulin, who has scored the golden goal in the past two Olympic finals; Canada goalie Shannon Szabados, who is going for her third straight gold medal; and Finland’s Noora Raty, who was the best goalie at the world’s last year.
▪ Forward Amanda Kessel, 26, is one of USA’s biggest stars, in part because she’s the sister of two-time Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup champ Phil Kessel.