USA Hockey has gone back to college for its Beijing Olympics men’s team, after the NHL opted out of the 2022 Winter Games.
The final Olympic roster revealed Thursday includes 15 current NCAA players from nine college hockey programs. Eight professional players from European leagues and two players from the American Hockey League fill out the rest of the team.
“We’re fortunate to have a deep talent pool,” said John Vanbiesbrouck, the team’s general manager, “and with the mix of players who are part of our team, we’re looking forward to competing for a gold medal in Beijing.”
This is the second straight Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament without NHL player participation. The U.S. roster in the PyeongChang Olympics was also a mix of professional players that weren’t under NHL contract and college players. The Americans went 1-1-1 in pool play before losing in a quarterfinal shootout to the Czech Republic.
Forward Brian O’Neill, who plays for Jokerit in the Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, is the only returning player from the 2018 team.
The 2018 team had just four NCAA players, while the majority of the 2022 U.S. men’s team is taken from college hockey.
Minnesota State Mankato’s Nathan Smith is the leading scorer in Division I men’s hockey with 33 points in 22 games. In total, nine of the NCAA players on the Olympic roster are averaging over a point per game this season.
Anaheim Ducks forward Troy Terry was one of the four NCAA players on the 2018 team, and said the experience of playing against other nations’ pro players was “almost overwhelming” in the Olympics.
“Be confident. It took me a little while to figure that out: That I’m a good player. It’s what a lot of players go through at these events,” Terry told ESPN.
Including O’Neill, there are seven players on the 2022 U.S. Olympic roster with previous NHL experience. Forward Nick Shore (Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL) played 299 regular-season games with five different teams, while defenseman Steven Kampfer (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL) played in 231 games, primarily with the Boston Bruins. Other former NHL players are forwards Kenny Agostino (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, KHL) and Andy Miele (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, KHL); and defensemen Aaron Ness (Providence Bruins, AHL) and David Warsofsky (ERC Ingolstadt, Germany’s DEL).
Defenseman Brian Cooper, who was drafted in 2012 by the Anaheim Ducks and played his last three seasons in Sweden, was also named to the roster.
Along with Boston University’s Drew Commesso, the U.S. goaltenders are Strauss Mann, a former University of Michigan goalie having an outstanding first season with Skelleftea AIK in Sweden, and Pat Nagle, a 34-year-old who played the last decade in the ECHL and AHL. Nagle is currently a goalie for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ minor league affiliate.
The U.S. men’s team is coached by David Quinn, former head coach of the New York Rangers. It’s in Group A for the Beijing tournament with top-seeded Canada, 2018 silver medalist Germany and China, which qualified for the tournament for being the host nation. Team USA’s first game in the preliminary round is Feb. 10 against China.
The U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team won silver in Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010) with NHL players, losing to Canada in both gold-medal games. The last men’s Olympic hockey gold for the U.S. was the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980.
University of Wisconsin men’s coach Tony Granato, who coached the 2018 U.S. Olympic team, said the opportunity is there for the Americans to medal, even without NHL participation.
“You can go there and you can win that tournament. It’s that wide open,” he told ESPN this week. “Germany was within a minute from winning a gold medal. Who would have thought that? All the teams are facing their own challenges this year, just like they did when we went. All the teams expected the NHL to be there this time, so everyone is making their adjustments. They’re all scrambling to figure out what to do. The work we did leading up to that tournament was going to give us the best chance to win. Along with having players who wanted to wear that U.S.A. sweater and be their best for two weeks.”
The NHL opted out of the 2018 Olympics in South Korea due to financial disputes with the International Olympic Committee and a lack of desire by NHL team owners to shut down the regular season without concessions from the IOC and the NHL Players Association. In their new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020, the NHL and the players agreed to have them participate in the 2022 and 2026 Olympics. But the League retained the right to opt out of the Beijing Games if it needed February’s scheduled break (Feb. 4-22) to finish regular-season games that were postponed due to COVID-19.
The NHL announced on Dec. 21, 2021, that the league and NHL Players’ Association had come to an agreement not to play in Beijing. The League now has 127 games that have been postponed due to positive COVID tests among its teams and restrictions on attendance capacity in Canada.
At the time, three NHL players had been named to the men’s Olympic roster: Winger Patrick Kane and defenseman Seth Jones of the Chicago Blackhawks, and center Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin had to forego their duties with the U.S. national team after the NHL opted out.