College players make up more than half of the U.S. Olympic hockey roster for Beijing, a significant increase from 2018 when the NHL also opted not to participate.
USA Hockey unveiled its 25-man roster Thursday with 15 players from college, headlined by 2021 No. 2 pick Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken and 2020 No. 5 pick Jake Sanderson of the Ottawa Senators. Brendan Brisson, a Michigan teammate of Beniers and a 2020 first-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, also was named to the team.
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“We’re excited about the roster we’ve put together,” U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. “The Olympics are the biggest stage in sports, and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm our players have to represent their country.”
The U.S. skewed younger than four years ago when Troy Terry, Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway and Will Borgen were the only NCAA players on a team made up of mostly older professionals playing in Europe. Donato led the U.S. in goals, Terry in assists, Greenway was one of the top all-around performers during the tournament and their contributions raised the trust level this time around for leaning on more college players.
“It took that hesitation out,” said Scott Young, who’s back as an assistant, this time under coach David Quinn. “We weren’t afraid to go young. We weren’t afraid to go young and hungry.”
That includes in net. Recent Michigan graduate Strauss Mann, who is playing in the Swedish Hockey League, is expected to be the starter. He’s joined by Boston University’s Drew Commesso, who was a goaltender for the U.S. at the world junior championship, which was canceled four days in.
Sanderson, Beniers and University of Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber are the additional players from world juniors who were named to the team. The other NCAA players are Harvard’s Nick Abruzzese and Sean Farrell, Minnesota’s Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies, Minnesota State’s Nathan Smith, Minnesota-Duluth’s Noah Cates, Boston College’s Marc McLaughlin and Drew Helleson and St. Cloud State’s Sam Hentges and Nick Perbix.
Forwards Brian O’Neill, Kenny Agostino, Andy Miele and Nick Shore and defensemen Steven Kampfer, Aaron Ness and David Warsofsky are the U.S. players with NHL experience.
“We’ve got good players all over, whether in the NHL or college hockey,” Sanderson said earlier this week. “I’m super excited to play with those guys, just from playing against (many of) them in college. We just got to go there, give our best and expect the best.”
USA Hockey executives and coaches knew they needed some older players to handle the grind of the tournament, which begins Feb. 9 and goes through Feb. 20. The U.S. opens against China on Feb. 10.
“We feel that we do have enough strength and enough men to balance that out,” Young said. “You don’t want to go too much in one direction either way, but we feel that we’re going to be fast, we feel we’re going to be able to pressure teams and play a really fast and we feel that we have a lot of skill. When games get a little bigger, stronger, rougher, we’ve got some big, strong guys, too.”
O’Neill is the one returnee from the 2018 team, which lost to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.
“We hit a post with two minutes left to go, and then we ended up losing in a shootout (with a chance) to go to the semifinals,” Young said. “It was that close for us to go and play for a medal. We’re expecting to have success.”
Defenseman Brian Cooper, who is playing in Sweden, and goaltender Pat Nagle, who is in the American Hockey League with Lehigh Valley, round out the U.S. roster.
“We feel very confident in the group that we have chosen,” Quinn said on ESPN2. “We’re excited about the mix. I think we got a great blend of youth and experience.”
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KREJCI FOR CZECHS
Longtime Boston Bruins center David Krejci headlines the Czech roster, which also includes former NHL forwards Michael Frolik, Tomas Hyka, Vladimir Sobotka, Roman Cervenka, Lukas Sedlak and Michal Repik and defensemen Jakub Jerabek, Tomas Kundratek and Libor Sulak.
Krejci, 35, skated in 1,088 games with the Bruins over the previous 15 NHL seasons and decided to move back to his native country to play in front of friends and family there. He’s one of four players on the team from the Czech Extraliga, while 12 come from the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.