Americans playing hockey in Europe are likely to make up the majority of the U.S. men’s team for the Pyeongchang Olympics, Olympic coach Tony Granato said Monday, adding that he will fill the remaining spots with players who are signed to American Hockey League contracts and with college players.
The Olympic tournament will not include NHL players because the league decided not to interrupt its season for a faraway event that brings it little or no financial gain. The last Olympic tournament that did not include NHL players was in 1994.
Granato is a former Kings forward who played for Team USA in the 1988 Olympics and went on to work as a coach and an assistant coach in the NHL. He recently went back to his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, to coach the men’s team there. He also got his college degree a few months ago “on the 33-year plan,” he joked, and after all four of his children had gotten their diplomas.
Granato said the lack of NHL players won’t change the status of the game’s powerhouse countries — Canada, the U.S., Russia, Finland and Sweden — and he expects all of them to contend for medals. The tournament will be played on an international-size rink, which is 200 feet long by 100 feet wide, 15 feet wider than NHL ice surfaces.
As a sort of Olympic tuneup, Granato will coach Team USA at the Deutschland Cup tournament in Augsberg, Germany, on Nov. 10-12. The roster will be drawn from a pool of about 100 players and will be comprised of Americans playing in Europe. The Deutschland Cup roster, which will be announced around Oct. 15, won’t include any college or minor league players because their seasons will be in progress. The 25-man Olympic roster, which must include three goaltenders, will be announced on or around Jan. 1.
“We will have NHL-caliber players on our team. We will have players that play on our team that will advance to the NHL and be stars in the NHL after,” Granato said at the Team USA media summit. “We’re looking for a confident and energized group of players that we believe will give us the best chance to win.
“I think there’s an elite group of players that are playing professionally in Europe that we’ll kind of build our team around from the standpoint of they’re playing on the big sheet right now and they’re playing a relatively friendly schedule compared to our NHL schedule. It’s not quite as grinding and they should be a little bit fresher as they head into the month of February. But we’ll look for character players. … We’re going to have a team that I think the American people and the American hockey fan will be proud of.”
Granato acknowledged that he enjoyed seeing NHL players participate in the Olympics but said the league’s decision to skip the 2018 Games left the participating national teams no choice but to find other sources for players. The presence of college kids adds another dimension, he said, gesturing to two players sitting beside him on the stage — Boston University standout Jordan Greenway and University of Denver forward Troy Terry, a Ducks prospect who attended the Ducks’ development camp this year. Their youth and freshness could resonate with fans in the way that the 1980 U.S. team did at Lake Placid, N.Y., on the way to winning the gold medal there.
“I think that we have lots of players in our country and in our talent pool that will give us the same kind of excitement that we had in Lake Placid,” Granato said. “I loved when the NHL players were in it. I thought it was outstanding. I thought it was great for our game. … This is a great opportunity for these guys and it’s a great opportunity for players who now have a chance to play in the Olympics and move on and do what Mark Johnson and Neal Broten and Kenny Morrow did after their Olympic experience.”
Johnson, Broten and Morow went on to enjoy successful NHL careers after Lake Placid.
The International Ice Hockey Federation on Monday announced the schedule for the Olympic tournament. The U.S. men will play round-robin games Feb. 14 against Slovenia, Feb. 16 against Slovakia and Feb. 17 against Russia to determine if they will advance to the playoffs, which begin with quarterfinals Feb. 21. The U.S. women will play Finland on Feb. 11, Russia on Feb. 13, and Canada on Feb. 15 to see if they advance to the quarterfinals, which will begin Feb. 17.