(Reuters) – With the National Hockey League having pulled out of the Beijing Olympics, the United States turned to the college ranks to fill out its men’s ice hockey roster on Thursday, calling up 15 university players for next month’s Winter Games.
The U.S. squad that was expected to be packed with high-profile NHLers instead included a mostly anonymous group cobbled together from colleges, European professional and North American minor leagues.
“For a long time everyone was pitching the NHL going to the Olympics. The reality hit and we are living through new realities,” said U.S. team general manager John Vanbiesbrouck during a video conference.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for whoever is going. This is our Olympic team and we are going there to represent our country and I don’t know if we have to sell that.
“For some they wanted to swim over there to play on this team.
“It is a time of opportunity.”
The 25-man U.S. roster will not be without NHL experience.
Nick Shore, a third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2011, brings the most experience, having played 299 games with five teams, scoring 18 goals and 41 assists.
Seven members of the U.S. squad have played at least one NHL game while Brian O’Neill, one of five players from the Russian KHL, is the lone returning Olympian from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
The team will also include some potential NHL stars such as 19-year-old Matty Beniers, taken by the expansion Seattle Kraken with the second overall pick in last year’s draft.
“We wanted to take the best team possible to compete for a gold medal and when we looked at the player pool that was available to us, we thought speed, skill, pace, tempo was going to be the strength of our team,” said U.S. head coach David Quinn.
“It’s kind of like putting a band together. You don’t pick five lead singers, you try to put a team together and that was our mindset going through this process.”
USA Hockey was forced to come up with a Plan B when the NHL decided in December it would not send players to Beijing due to major disruptions in the schedule created by a surge in COVID-19 cases that has seen over 100 games postponed.
The NHL said it will use the Olympic window to reschedule postponed games.
The Beijing Olympics run from Feb. 4-20 with the U.S. opening play on Feb. 10 against China.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond and Karishma Singh)