By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com
On 13 January 2018 Team Canada announced their roster for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Without the NHL superstars, such as captain Sidney Crosby, who won gold in Sochi four years ago, the team has a very different feel. The selectors are relying on the quality of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) where 13 of the group currently play. However, seven of the team have played in Sweden, that is one quarter, and three currently play in their top division, Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
The Swedish Connection: Roy, Bourque and Elliott
Every review of the team mentions two people at the top of their article: Derek Roy playing for Linköping HC and René Bourque for Djurgården IF. For Roy it is because he has played over 700 games in the NHL with a has a huge production rate of 0.71 Points Per Game (PPG) over an 11-year career. Bourque has a played a similar length of time in the NHL and can boast a production rate of 0.44 PPG. Both players are in their first season in Sweden and are producing points at a slightly higher level that their time in the NHL, which bodes well for the forthcoming Olympics.
Roy did miss some games, including an international call up at the Karjala Cup, due to a groin injury. At the same time Roy‘s team has not sparkled this year whereas Bourque has played with a resurgent Djurgården where the whole team has been banging in goals left, right and centre. They lie in second place at time of writing. In that sense, Bourque has probably had the better warm up to the Olympics that his compatriot.
The third active player in the SHL who is going to Pyeongchang is HV71‘s defenseman, Stefan Elliott. He was out of contract in the summer after his first season outside North America in the KHL. He came to injury hit HV71 in the middle of October and has played just 21 games. Like his team, who are the reigning SHL champions, he has had an understated season. He also has a great habit of staying out of the box. For example, he collected only 60 Penalty Minutes in 234 games in the AHL. Canada’s selectors will be hoping he finds the form that made him top Goal scoring defenseman in that league in 2015-6. But surprisingly, the Olympics will be the 26-year old’s first international tournament since the Under 18 World Championship back in 2008.
Players who have developed in the SHL
The other four players who have played in Sweden are forwards Mason Raymond and Maxim Lapierre and backs Mat Robinson and Chris Lee. Whilst none of them stayed in Sweden, playing in the country was a key step towards establishing their career outside North America.
Raymond perhaps shouldn’t be on this list as he only played 2 games for Örebro BK when they were in the second division, Hockey Allsvenskan, during the NHL lockout of 2011-2. He has been primed for this Games with several tournaments for Team Canada in the last year. He has netted nine goals in 14 games and fits their team model of in being a forward with a lot of NHL experience, over 550 NHL matches and today plays in Switzerland.
Maxim Lapierre is another forward with huge NHL experience, in fact Raymond and Lapierre were teammates at the Vancouver Canucks for three years. He has over 680 games in the NHL spending a good deal of time sitting in the box – 586 minutes to be precise. He chose Sweden for his first year outside North America playing an unremarkable season for MODO Hockey in 2015-6 before settling in Switzerland. He has played the first international matches of his career this December collecting 4 assists and, amazingly, no minutes in the box. We remain to see whether this new-look Lapierre or old-school enforcer will appear in Pyeongchang.
Chris Lee is a goal scoring defenseman who has been playing in Europe since 2010 after four years in the AHL. He is in his fifth season in the KHL, but prior to that played one season for Färjestad BK in 2012-3. Then, as now, he was very affective from the blue line scoring 41 points recording an impressive 0.76 PPG. He also picked up the most Assists and top Total Points by a defenseman that year. He has been collecting those type of awards wherever he has gone and since that season at Färjestad BK he also being playing for Canada. In that way we can see that this Olympic call up is not so unexpected.
Mat Robinson is another offensive minded defender who played in Sweden prior to a successful career in Russia, where he has also been for five years bashing out a PPG of 0.54. Unusually for a North American he has almost no experience from the NHL or AHL and has built his career up entirely here in Europe. Whilst in Sweden he had has slightly lower production rate at relegation-prone Timrå IF. But he has bloomed since moving to Russia picking up the Most Goals by a defenseman award in the KHL in 2015-6. Guess who won it the following year? None other than Chris Lee.
It seems clear to me that one SHL player who would have fitted into Canada’s selection model is Daniel Paille. The 33-year-old forward is in his second season at Brynäs IF but is out injured, possibly for the rest of the season. That’s because he suffering concussion from a totally pointless blindside tackle in the dying minutes of a Champions Hockey League match. Paille has over 580 NHL games, over 200 AHL games and has played for Canada in one of the pre-Olympic warm ups but will not be going to South Korea.
I think it would be safe to say than the Canada selectors have not primarily focused on the SHL in assembling this team. This is in sharp contrast to Team USA which features players who have shone during their time on Nordic ice. The Canadian are relying on NHL experience with their forwards and KHL experience with their backs in their team and as they themselves have said, that players step up in their performance. In one month’s time the first Olympic puck will drop and we’ll see if their approach pays off. Let the Games begin!