The Winter Olympic hockey tournament is one of the rare occasions that Americans get up for hockey. Team USA’s rollercoaster history features towering peaks like the Miracle on Ice in 1980 to the devastating 2010 overtime loss in the gold-medal game at the hands of Sidney Crosby and Team Canada.
This year, the NHL has made the decision not to let its players participate, decreasing the profile of hockey’s premiere international showcase. That’s not to say a team of no-names can’t capture the attention of a nation like the 1980 team did; it just means the names you might recognize from the NHL won’t be there.
Team USA general manager Jim Johannson, who died in his sleep Jan. 21, assembled an interesting roster of pros playing in European leagues as well as past and future NHLers.
Here are the names on Team USA to keep an eye on and those you might recognize.
1. Brian Gionta
At 38, Gionta’s professional hockey career is not going to last much longer. Yet, following a 15-goal, 35-point season and with multiple teams interested in his services, Gionta decided to hold off on signing what will likely be one of his last NHL contracts. Instead, he chose to represent his country in Pyeongchang. That is just one of the reasons USA Hockey decided to make him team captain. His other qualifications are obvious. He has spent 16 seasons in the NHL, scored 289 goals and 588 total points. He’s been a captain or assistant captain more than half of his career.
He’s the biggest name on this U.S. team and the most qualified. Who else better to lead this collection of college players and European league pros than a guy who has achieved nearly everything toward which they’re aiming. He has played in an NCAA Championship game, the World Junior Championships, the World Championships, the Olympics and he’s won a Stanley Cup. If there is someone they will listen to, it’s him.
The main question still lingers: can this 38-year-old still play? Gionta hasn’t played a competitive hockey game since the spring, but he been working out with the Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabers’ AHL affiliate.
Though he was known for his speed, his time away from the NHL might make him a step slow on Olympic-sized ice, where he hasn’t played consistently in over a decade. He may be at a disadvantage facing opponents who play professionally in Europe, where the ice is typically the bigger Olympic sheet.
That doesn’t mean his offensive talents won’t come in handy, especially on the power play, where set plays and formations slow the game down. Gionta is also known for his skill around the opponent’s goal and the extra two feet of space behind the nets will come in handy.
2. Troy Terry
Quick, what’s the last memory you have of Olympic hockey? You probably said T.J. Oshie’s heroics in the 2014 game between the United States and Russia. Oshie became a national hero after scoring four times in six attempts against Sergei Bobrovsky to propel the U.S. past Russia.
If that sort of history is to repeat itself, Terry will be heavily involved. The Anaheim Ducks’ fifth-round pick, who is currently tied for second in scoring on the University of Denver’s national powerhouse hockey team, pulled off an Oshie-esque performance at the 2016-17 World Junior Championships in Canada.
Terry scored three of four U.S. goals in a semifinal shootout against Russia, scoring once to keep the U.S. alive and once to clinch the win. Terry followed that steely-nerved performance to score the only goal in Team USA’s championship-winning shootout victory against Canada, in their home country, in perhaps Canada’s loudest most hostile venue, the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Throughout that tournament, Terry netted four goals and three assists, good for a point-per-game output. Terry has excellent hands and a strong shot and though he borders on small for the NHL game at 6 feet, 179 pounds, he will benefit playing against players from less-physical European leagues. Oh yeah, did I mention he was a member of the 2016-17 NCAA national champion University of Denver team? If there is anyone who would seem perfectly suited for this Olympic tournament, it’s Terry.
3. Ryan Donato
Donato is another young, talented college player. If you recognize his name, that’s because his father, Ted Donato, had a long NHL career and now coaches the son at Harvard.
At center, Donato - who, like his father, was drafted by the Boston Bruins - is in his third college season. Donato leads his team in goals (20) and points (29) of which he has 10 more points than Harvard’s second-leading scorer. Harvard has been flirting with a top-20 national ranking all season and Donato is a major factor.
He has international experience as well, playing for the United States World Junior team in 2015-16, where he tallied four points in seven games. Donato is scouted as an aggressive fore checker with good hands and the potential to be effective on the power play. Though the Olympic-sized ice may expose his overaggressive fore check and pull him out of position, he has played internationally, so it ought to be a quick adjustment.
4. Matt Gilroy CC Danfederici-SA-3.0
Gilroy was once a promising young NHL defensive prospect. Indeed, Gilroy won the Hobey Baker Award, the Heisman Trophy of college hockey during his senior season. By many accounts, Gilroy was a late bloomer, which is why he entered the NHL as a free agent rather than being drafted.
Though Gilroy’s career never panned out in the NHL, he has played in the KHL since leaving the NHL following the 2013-14 season, thriving there. Considered by many to be the second-best professional hockey league in the world, the KHL plays primarily on Olympic-sized ice surfaces and is the home league to players who will likely fill the majority of Olympic rosters.
Gilroy is currently tied for ninth in the KHL among defensemen in points and has a reputation as an excellent skater and puck distributor. Not only that, he is a positionally responsible defender and excellent skater and will likely be a top pair defenseman in Pyeongchang.
5. Jordan Greenway
Greenway is another young NCAA player poised to make an impact for Team USA. A Boston University junior, Greenway played with Troy Terry on the 2016-17 World Junior Championships, putting up more than a point per game for the gold-medal winners.
NHL teams are hoping Greenway can establish himself as a power forward, and surely the late Johannson, was hoping for the same role for Greenway. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Greenway will be one of the biggest players in the tournament. He’s also a strong skater with a massive net-front presence who will bring an element of physicality that may be lacking in the Olympic tournament from teams besides the U.S. and Canada.
Greenway will likely also find some time on the power play, disrupting opposing goalies’ vision, looking for redirections and rebounds.
Keep an eye out for all of these players Feb. 14, when the Team USA opens play against Slovenia.