As the NHL staged its All-Star weekend, with Nathan MacKinnon as the Avalanche representative on the Central Division roster, one of the side stories was where the league’s elite players are not headed in the upcoming weeks.
They’re not headed for South Korea.
MacKinnon and the Avalanche resume the regular season at Vancouver Tuesday night.
They have 34 games in the final 68 days, and that type of compressed schedule is the norm.
The NHL isn’t shutting down for the Winter Games at PyeongChang.
The league has declared the Games off limits for anyone under NHL contract, even if playing in the AHL.
After USA Hockey’s scrambling to assemble an Olympic team from non-NHL sources, University of Pioneer junior forward Troy Terry, from Highlands Ranch, will be one of four collegians on the U.S. roster during the August 14-25 men’s hockey competition.
The majority of the Americans are playing professionally in Europe.
Among Terry’s teammates on the Tony Granato-coached U.S. team will be journeyman winger Chris Bourque, who was 15 when he watched his dad, Ray, tearfully hold aloft the Stanley Cup after the Avalanche’s Game 7 victory over the Devils in 2001; and former University of Minnesota center Ryan Stoa, a 2005 Avalanche draft choice who played 37 games for Colorado from 2009-11.
I’ve written several profiles of Colorado-connected members of the U.S. rosters in various sports, plus an extensive Q-and-A type interview with Terry. All will appear in the upcoming February issue of Mile High Sports Magazine and online here. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ll be prone to enjoying Terry’s mostly self-effacing comments about his path from roller hockey as a kid in Highlands Ranch to World Junior Championships shootout hero and NCAA champion a year ago.
I was especially interested as Terry described his pre-DU stay with the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, with high-profile teammates Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White and Clayton Keller.
Terry’s story also is about the development of Colorado as a hockey hotbed, too, given his progression through programs in the area and going to the Anaheim Ducks in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. And now he will be an Olympian, along with Lakewood’s Nicole Hensley, a goaltender for a U.S. women’s team that — barring a shocker in the semifinals — will be headed for a gold-medal showdown against Canada.
I’ve covered seven Olympics, and the men’s hockey competitions at the Winter Games have been a mix, ranging from the final NHL pre-participation days to the league shutting down and showcasing its product in the international spotlight.
I regret the NHL stepping away. It was energizing to again see highly paid professionals from the league’s internationalized talent pool so hungry to represent their nations and seek a medal. Plus, the hockey most of the time — especially at Vancouver in 2010, when Canada won the championship game over the U.S. in overtime — was terrific, entertaining and memorable.
But this can be enjoyable, too.
Some of the buildup coverage has been misleading and even naive about what this evolved tournament will be, and even about the nature of what the U.S. team is.
I know everyone knows this, but I’m going to say it anyway, because Olympic coverage is prone to easy “angles.”
This is not anything even closely analogous to 1980.
That was a U.S. team of mostly collegians matched against what truly was the best team in the world — the Soviet Union — with some of the best players on the planet. The veteran captain, Mike Eruzione, had played two seasons in the minor leagues after leaving Boston University, and also had attended the NHL Colorado Rockies’ training camp before quickly being cut. The Soviets had beaten the NHL All-Stars, two games to one, in a Challenge Cup series in New York in February 1979. Czechoslovakia also had a handful of elite players, including brothers Peter, Marian and Anton Stastny, before Peter and Anton defected to the West later in the year. (That Paul, Peter’s son, years later could play for the U.S. against his parents’ homeland, Slovakia, was an underplayed story at the 2010 Games.)
That victory over the USSR and the gold medal, secured against Finland in the final game, truly was a Miracle. As weird as this is to say, if anything, the magnitude has been under-appreciated, rather than exaggerated. Yes, after two movies and a gazillion “Do You Believe in Miracles?” references, that’s still true.
This cobbled-together USA roster is a longshot to medal. The European teams will benefit from more experience together, and Russia’s roster — or a team of athletes from Russia in the wake of IOC sanctions — essentially is a merger of the Russians on the top teams in the KHL, including NHL veterans who have returned home.
Canada’s roster includes five former Avalanche players — wingers Rene Bourque and Wojtek Wolski, plus defensemen Karl Stollery, Cody Goloubef and Stefan Elliott.
I’d prefer seeing the best in the world on the ice, but this change of pace will be worth watching.
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Denver-based journalist Terry Frei writes two commentaries a week about the Avalanche for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and a War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champion Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
Terry Frei’s MHS Commentary Archive: