Jake Sanderson felt bad that he would be missing out on a handful of games in North Dakota to play in the Olympics.
When he expressed that sentiment to his college mates and coaches, the star defenseman was greeted with support. It was already an easy option for Sanderson to suit up to the United States in Beijing, and it made it even easier.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s something you really can’t pass up. This is the Olympics. You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to play in the Olympics in your lifetime.”
After the NHL decided to withdraw By the 2022 Games, the opportunity of a lifetime was suddenly available for Owen Power and Matty Benniers of Sanderson, Michigan, and other US college-ranked players with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada eyeing the NCAA for top talent So that they can fill their roster. College players who decided to drop out of school for a few weeks to go to Beijing can’t look any further than the 2018 Olympics for some strong evidence in the yes column.
Troy Terry of Anaheim, Jordan Greenway of Minnesota and Ryan Donato of Seattle all skated for the US in Pyeongchang on a team composed mostly of older professionals playing in Europe. They have since combined to play in 611 NHL games.
“I would tell those people if they got a chance to cherish, enjoy and make the most of it,” Donato said. “After coming out of college, it was obviously a little nerve-wracking because you have all these guys who have played in the NHL and I think it does a lot for your confidence that you can hang out with these guys. “
Sanderson, a Whitefish, Montana, who was taken by Ottawa with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, has already accepted his invitation. The top two NHL picks in 2021 – the Powers, who previously went to Buffalo, and the Benears, who went to Seattle – have each been invited to play for Canada and the US, respectively. Michigan teammates Brendan Bryson (US) and Kent Johnson (Canada) are also Olympic candidates.
Greenaway and Terry were US candidates when it looked like the NHL was pausing its season for the first time since 2018 with the world’s best hockey players playing in the Olympics for nearly three weeks.
Greenaway said he would probably have gone if he was chosen, especially if virus testing and quarantine restrictions were revised because, like many participants, those were his biggest concerns. This is a big difference from 2018.
“There are other factors that go into this now because of the circumstances and the situation, which I understand,” Greenway said. “I think it’s probably a bit more of a question. It’s a no-brainer, let’s say, maybe now. It might be a little different for those guys. You take the hockey part alone and have experience and Everything that goes into it, it is a special, special experience.
US general manager John VanBiesbruck and coach David Quinn believed the Olympic experience was a strong selling point, even with the pandemic and college duties in mind. An additional motivation is that the World Junior Championships was cancelled. Fears of a virus outbreak last month, and the Olympics could have worked somewhat for that tournament for many players under the age of 20.
Still, Quinn realized that trying to persuade active college players to move to Beijing was not the same as the days of being admitted to Boston University.
“These circumstances are very different,” Quinn said. “Leaving the team in the middle of the season and with the COVID situation, there are a lot of hurdles, a lot of hurdles. But I think everyone wants to play in the Olympics.”
Mel Pearson, who has been coaching Michigan with a powerhouse roster and a legitimate shot at a national championship, has told players he supports going to the Olympics.
“Opportunities like these, they don’t often come along,” Pearson told reporters last weekend. “We will fully support him and look forward to getting him back once he reaches home with the medal.”
Given that he would only miss four games in North Dakota and that the quarantine requirements weren’t nearly as long as the rumor, Sanderson’s concerns were eased. He also expects to be in the NHL soon, and seeing Terry, Greenaway and Donato play there now is added incentive.
“You look at those guys and they’re doing great in the NHL,” Sanderson said. “I think being with people and being in that moment and taking it all in, having fun in the Olympic Village, I think the whole experience would be captivating, fun.”
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