No current NHL stars in Winter Olympics this time
Canton native James Wisniewski, shown as a Blue Jacket during his NHL days, now plays in Germany. He will skate as a member of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team in South Korea.
When the Winter Olympics begin in a few days in PyeongChang, South Korea, there will be a different level of hockey on display than what we've seen for the past 20 years.
That’s because, for the first time since 1998, the Winter Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament will not feature current NHL players. The NHL, NHL Players Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation could not come to an agreement to allow the league’s players compete as they have done for the past five Winter Olympic Games.
The teams will feature mostly players in the minor leagues and on professional teams in Europe. Many of those are former NHL players; a few have played in the NHL as recently as last season, including U.S. captain Brian Gionta, who played all 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17. Gionta, a center who turned 39 last month, played in the NHL for 15 seasons with 289 goals in 1,006 games.
Among his Team USA teammates are a few names hockey people in Michigan will recognize. They include defenseman James Wisniewski, a Canton native who plays in Germany after playing in the NHL from 2005-06 to 2015-16 with the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes. Wisniewski also played his Junior hockey with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Another area native, who reached “The Show” and will be wearing red, white and blue at the Olympics, is Michigan State alum forward Jim Slater, who is from Lapeer. He played for the Atlanta Thrashers-Winnipeg Jets franchise from 2005-06 to 2014-15. He currently plays in Switzerland.
Also on the squad are defenseman and Marysville native Chad Billins, who plays professionally in Sweden and played 10 games in the NHL, and University of Michigan alum Chad Kolarik, who plays in Germany and played six NHL games.
There are a couple of names on the coaching staff that Red Wing fans will recognize. Former Detroit assistant coach Tony Granato, now the head coach at Wisconsin, is the team’s head coach. Among his assistants are Chris Chelios and Fenton native and former NTDP coach Ron Rolston.
The Canadian Olympic team features mostly former NHL players who now skate in Europe or in the minors.
Former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk will also play in the Olympics, but not for Russia. That’s because Russia has been banned from being represented at these Olympics due to the blood-doping scandal.
Datsyuk, who plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, will play for the Olympic Athletes of Russia, along with another former Red Wing, defenseman Alexey Marchenko, and former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk. Both also play in the KHL.
There will also be a familiar name with Team Sweden. Defenseman Staffan Kronwall is the younger brother of Detroit veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall.