PHPA Members Well Represented on Olympic Rosters

Author: Katharine Thomas, for PHPA.com
Date: Feb 7, 2018

The opening ceremonies for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will be held February 9th in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  These games, however, will mark the first Olympics since 1994 that will not feature NHL contracted players participating in the Men’s ice hockey tournament.  Although this may be viewed as controversial by some, the absence of current NHL players has opened up opportunities for other professional hockey players to represent their country, many of whom are either currently playing or at one time played in either the American Hockey League (AHL) and/or ECHL.

Teams have had to build their Olympic rosters from players in professional leagues outside of the NHL, such as the AHL, ECHL, Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and various other European leagues.  Team USA has chosen to fill some of its roster spots with players from NCAA colleges as well.  Players were eligible to participate in the Olympics if they were not signed to an NHL contract.  Despite the lack of star power from current NHL players, the men’s tournament may surprise a lot of people with the exceptional caliber of play.

For instance, Jonathan Blum, who was selected to represent Team USA has played over 100 NHL games between the Nashville Predators and the Minnesota Wild, as well as over 300 AHL games for the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild.   He was drafted in the first round, 23rd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators and won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants in 2007.  Blum is currently playing in the KHL for Sochi HC and thus available for Team USA.

When Blum first heard he had been chosen to represent his country at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, he felt honored. “I was in complete shock.  I was numb and really didn't know how to respond,” said Blum.  “To be selected to represent your country at the Olympic Games is the highest achievement you can be picked for. Even a few weeks later I still can't believe it. It won't set in until I land in South Korea that's for sure.”

Blum has represented the USA on three previous occasions during his junior career including the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the 2008 World Junior Championships, and in 2009 as team captain of the USA World Junior Championship team.  “It means everything to me to represent my country at the Olympics.  There is so many great men and women that sacrifice so much for this country that I want to do anything I can to win a gold medal for them.”

Each Men’s Olympic roster is comprised of 25 players.  Approximately 45% of the hockey players participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics (135 of the 300 players) are either current or former AHL or ECHL players.

Six current AHL players participating in the games include Chris Kelly, Christian Thomas, and Cody Goloubef for Team Canada, and Chris Bourque, Bobby Butler, and John McCarthy for Team USA.

Rob Klinkhammer of Team Canada split nine seasons between the NHL and AHL and is anxious to finally have the opportunity to represent his country on the International stage.  “I never thought I would get to participate in the Olympics and to be able to do that for arguably Canada’s most popular sport is just amazing,” said the 31-year-old forward.

Klinkhammer made his NHL debut in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks and also played with the Ottawa Senators, Arizona Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers to go along with 423 games of AHL experience on his hockey resume.  He signed in the KHL in 2016 where he currently plays for the Ak Bars Kazan.

The opportunity to play in the Olympic Games is dream like for Klinkhammer. “I’m just looking forward to the whole Olympic experience. Obviously competing for my country but also living in the athletes’ village and staying with the rest of Team Canada, watching other sports and having my family come and experience it with me.  It’s an absolute dream come true.”

The Men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament will be comprised of three groups; Group A consisting of Canada, South Korea, Czech Republic, and Switzerland; Group B consisting of Slovenia, the United States, Olympic Athletes from Russia, and Slovakia; and Group C consisting of Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

The men’s tournament will kick off on February 14th and conclude with the gold medal game on February 24st at 11:10pm ET.

For many of the hockey players participating in the Winter Olympics this year, it will mark be their first Olympic experience. While others, such as Swedish goaltender Jhonas Enroth, will be enjoying his second Olympic experience.

Enroth was selected to the Swedish squad as the team’s third goaltender at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi where the team captured the silver medal.  Playing behind Henrik Lundqvist and Jonas Gustavsson, the veteran of over 153 NHL games split between the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs did not see any in game action, although he can use this experience to his advantage.

“I’m extremely proud to be representing Sweden again at the Olympics. I know it’s going to be a great memory for life for me and my teammates. It has been my goal to make the team ever since the season started.  In Sochi we didn’t have time to get to the opening ceremony so I’m hoping to make it this time,” said Enroth.  “The hockey tournament of course is our main focus and what I look forward to the most. But also, to just experience another Olympics will be great. I’ll try to watch some other events too and I’m also looking forward to the opening ceremony.”

Enroth first gained international experience when he played with Team Sweden at the 2005 World Junior Championships, winning the bronze medal. He represented Sweden again at the 2012 World Championships, helping Sweden win gold for the first time in 27 years.

After playing parts of the past two seasons in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and San Diego Gulls, Enroth signed in the KHL with HC Dynamo Minsk.

The significant difference in time zone between South Korea and North America will make watching live coverage of the Men’s tournament a challenge with Pyeongchang 14 hours ahead.  However all event coverage will be available live through CBC Television and archived online through the CBC Olympics platforms in Canada.

NBC will be providing American coverage via NBC ‘s cable channels NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, and the Olympic Channel as well as through digital and streaming services including NBCOlympics.com and the Dailey Olympic Podcast ‘The Podium’.

Whether NHL contracted players will be featured at the next Winter Olympic games in 2022 in Beijing, China remains to be seen.  Until then, viewers tuning into the Men’s ice hockey tournament will be treated to a high caliber performance, where it’s anybody’s game to take home the gold.  

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