Team Canada PyeongChang 2018 Men's Hockey

Team Canada’s backup plan for no NHL players in men’s Olympic hockey

Though it may not be the “best-on-best” showdown many fans have dreamed about, we know that the men’s hockey tournament at Beijing 2022 will still be full of intrigue and excitement.

After all, it was only four years ago that a team of non-NHL players had the chance of a lifetime to join forces as Team Canada, resulting in an Olympic bronze medal at PyeongChang 2018.

Team Canada men's hockey pose with their bronze medals
Canada’s men’s hockey team celebrates their win following men’s hockey bronze medal game action against Czech Republic at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Saturday, February 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

While the news that the likes of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid won’t be wearing the red maple leaf in February might be disappointing to some fans, there has always been a backup plan.

RELATED: IIHF and NHL statement regarding NHL players not participating in Beijing 2022
RELATED: Hockey Canada statement regarding NHL players not participating in Beijing 2022

Here’s what you need to know about the contingency planning that’s been happening just in case the NHL and NHLPA had to step back from their commitment to compete at Beijing 2022 because of concerns related to COVID-19.

Who will be on Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team?

As it was for PyeongChang 2018, players based in European leagues, the American Hockey League, and the NCAA will likely be under consideration for the Olympic roster. 

“In Canada, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to evaluate and select talented and hard-working players and personnel that play and work in various leagues around the world, and we look forward to assembling a team of highly-skilled players and staff that have worked hard to earn the opportunity to the wear the Maple Leaf with pride on the world stage. We know that Canadians across the country will be proud to cheer on Team Canada in February, and we look forward to working with our hockey operations staff to assemble a group that gives us the best possible chance to bring home a gold medal.” – Hockey Canada statement

Shane Doan is expected to serve as the general manager with Claude Julien as head coach. Both men had been named to those positions with Team Canada for the Channel One Cup and Spengler Cup, two tournaments traditionally held in Europe in December.

It was intended that those tournaments would provide Hockey Canada the opportunity to evaluate Canadian players based in Europe, including the KHL. Canada finished third overall at the Channel One Cup in Moscow, which also featured teams from Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

However, it was announced on Monday December 20 that Canada was withdrawing from the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland out of concern for the health and safety of players, coaches, and staff.

Eric O'Dell skates hard for the puck past a German player
Canada forward Eric O’Dell (22) skates during the men’s semifinals of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Hockey Centre on February 23, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.(Photo by Vincent Ethier/COC)

There is definitely something special about being part of the Olympic team, as recently noted by one player who competed at the Channel One Cup:

“If I had an opportunity to play in the Olympics and represent my country, it would be hard for me to say no to that. I would love the opportunity to be able to do it again,” said Eric O’Dell, who was a member of the team at PyeongChang 2018. “We were able to win bronze, so hopefully we can improve on that result at the upcoming Olympics if the opportunity presents itself, but I would love to represent Canada at the Olympics again.”

O’Dell wasn’t the only Olympian on the Channel One Cup roster, as he was joined by Chay Genoway and Mat Robinson who also helped bring home that bronze from PyeongChang.

Three Team Canada hockey players celebrate a goal
Team Canada’s defenseman Mat Robinson (37) celebrates with teammates Chris Lee (4) and Mason Raymond (21) after scoring a goal during semifinal ice hockey action at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Korea, Friday, February 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – COC – Vaughn Ridley

A couple of other notables who competed in Moscow include goaltender Justin Pogge, who backstopped Canada to gold at the 2006 World Junior Championships, defenceman Jason Demers who has almost 700 games of NHL experience as well as a world silver medal from 2017, and defenceman Brandon Gormley, who suited up for Canada at the 2012 World Juniors.

The absolute deadline for athletes to be entered to compete in Beijing is January 24.

Who will Canada play in men’s hockey at Beijing 2022?

Team Canada’s Olympic schedule remains unchanged.

Canada will open the men’s tournament against Germany at 9:10 p.m. in Beijing on February 10 (8:10 a.m. ET / 5:10 a.m. PT the same day). Two days later on February 12, they’ll face Team USA at 12:10 p.m. (11:10 pm ET / 8:10 pm PT on February 11). Canada will close out the preliminary round against the host team at 9:10 p.m. in Beijing on February 13 (8:10 a.m. ET / 5:10 a.m. PT).

READ: Team Canada’s Olympic hockey schedules released for Beijing 2022

Canada will hope to avoid playing in the qualification playoff games on February 15 and instead aim to advance directly into the quarterfinals to be played on February 16. The semifinals will take place February 18, setting up the bronze medal game on February 19 and the gold medal game on February 20.

Can Canada win an Olympic medal without NHL players?

The short answer is: of course! You need look no further back than the bronze from PyeongChang 2018. But if you do go back to before NHL players began participating, you’ll see that Canada won silvers at Lillehammer 1994, losing the final to Sweden in a shootout, and at Albertville 1992, when the Unified Team (formerly the Soviet Union) was still the major powerhouse in international hockey.