By Adrian J – Eurohockey.com
Seven, that is a quarter of the selected team, play or have played in Sweden, indeed four of them at the same club, Linköping Hockey Club.
Bobby Butler has only had one season in the SHL at Peter Forsberg’s former club, MODO Hockey. It was a miserable year where he got only 10 goals as the club were relegated proving that Swedish hockey does suit every type of player. Compare that to his record in the AHL, where the Milwaukee Admirals forward has a whopping 0.76 PPG average over 250 games.
But the rest of the players could well be said to have been chosen because of their success in Sweden.
The American selectors must surely have in mind the points scoring success of the 2015/6 season at Linköping HC where the trio of Roe, Little and Billins amassed 107 points between them (41-35-31) and were 9th, 21st and 38th respectively in the Total Points table. Billins was the highest scoring back in the SHL that season.
Chad Billins – He is the classic back that likes to shoot – he has 13 assists and 3 goals in the 2017/8 season at the time of writing in this his second season with Linköping. After 2 years in the AHL Billins moved to Europe in 2014 and has played for two different clubs in the SHL. In North America and Europe he averages about a point every other game and hopefully can do the same in Korea.
Garrett Roe – He also played for two years in the AHL prior to moving to Europe in 2013 and is now playing in Switzerland. He is a consistent point getter gaining roughly a Point-Per-Game since he moved to Europe. That consistency gave him 9th place (2015/6) and 13th place (2016/7) in Total Points scored in his two seasons in the SHL at Linköping HC. Remember, the Total Points competition is this league is good indicator of high level talent, one that has been won by no less than New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccerello as well as Detroit Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg before.
Broc Little – a very fast skater and high goal scorer, especially on the power play. Now in Switzerland, he has played almost his entire career since leaving college in 2011 in Sweden, including 3 successful years for Linköping. In his first season in the SHL (2014/5) he was the Top Goal scorer in and in his last (2016-7) he was second highest Total Points scorer – and the highest scoring non-Swede. Expect him to play alongside former teammate, Roe and to see the ”Little Slide” goal celebration many times during the Korean trip.
Chad Kolarik – Linköping bought in Broc Little to replace Kolarik who was Top Goal scorer in Sweden in 2012/3 in his first season in Europe. Scores under a point a game but always has more goals than assists. He has moved around clubs a lot in Europe but brings experience from five years in the AHL prior to moving to the continent. Although he also played for Linköping it was not at the same time as they others, so may play on a different line. But he has been brought in to make sure the goal siren rings in Korea and will almost certainly be on one of the power play line ups.
Ryan Gunderson – He has been playing in Europe since 2010 including c. 250 in the SHL with Brynäs IF. With an assist in every other game he has a PPG of 0.66 making him a reliable point getting blue liner. He is currently Top Points scoring defenseman in the SHL and Assist leader in his team. He also has a remarkable ability to stay out of the box collecting only 44 penalty minutes in a five year career with Brynäs. He has not yet sat down on the naughty boys’ bench at all this season (31 matches at time of writing).
Noah Welch – a very different type of player to the others we have looked at is traditional back/ enforcer type whose primary role is to stop goal scorers with his physical play that NHL fans will be familiar with. He brings with him five years of experience in the NHL/ AHL and now in his sixth season in Sweden where he has amassed an incredible 479 penalty minutes. He is currently playing with the top placed club, Växjö Lakers. He also played with them in 2014/5 when they won the SHL and he himself picked up Playoff MVP as well as being the Most Penalized Player of the season. Welch doesn’t seem to like playing a whole match – in December 2017 he managed to get a Match Penalty for Checking to the Head in two games in a row plus subsequent disciplinary action. So the 6’4″ back will almost certainly be spending some of his time warming the penalty box in Korea.
For me the biggest surprise with the US team is that they haven’t chosen Frölunda Indians forward, Ryan Lasch. He has mainly played in Europe since leaving college in 2010 and has been winning awards in Finland, Switzerland as well as in Sweden where he has played three seasons with two different clubs in the SHL. He is currently the SHL’s fourth highest Total Points scorer, and the top scoring non-Swede in the League. In his previous season at Frölunda in 2015/6 he had totally magical season as the team won the SHL and the European knockout competition, the Champion’s Hockey League (CHL). Lasch himself won CHL MVP, CHL Total Points, SHL Total Points and SHL Most Assists awards – all in just one season. Whilst his second full year in Sweden was not of that calibre, he still managed to be 17th in the Total Points table. In fact, he was the fourth best American in the SHL behind a few names you might recognise. Yes, you guessed it, Chad Kolarik, Ryan Gunderson and Noah Welch‘s brother in law and then teammate to Lasch, Rhett Rakhshani.
Will Lasch’s exclusion spell disaster for the US team? Probably not. But that’s because the selectors must be certain that they can find the same consistency and firepower elsewhere in Europe’s quality hockey leagues. The Olympics without the NHL may be taking place in South Korea, but will also be a showcase of Eurohockey as stars from this continent battle it out for Gold on the icy fields of Asia.