China-based Brule key for NHL-less Canadians

Updated 2018-01-16 10:38:02 China Daily

With NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews unavailable, Team Canada will rely heavily on one of the top pros in China in its quest for a third straight gold medal in hockey at next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Canada won gold in Vancouver in 2010 and four years later in Sochi, Russia, with teams led by future Hall of Famers Crosby and Toews, who have each won three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks respectively.

The NHL had participated in every Winter Games since 1998, with the International Olympic Committee paying for the costs associated with travel, insurance and accommodation for the players and their guests. But last year the IOC announced it would not pick up the tab for the 2018 tournament, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would not suspend games for three weeks to allow its players to participate.

The NHL's absence has opened the door for 31-year-old center Gilbert Brule, the top scorer for China-based Kunlun Red Star of the Kontinental Hockey League, who was named to Team Canada on the weekend. General manager Sean Burke drew from seven leagues across Europe and North America to fill out his 25-man roster.

Brule, who leads Red Star with 14 goals and 31 points in 40 games, will likely line up alongside former Red Star teammate Wojek Wolski, who was recently traded to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and 37-year old Chris Kelly, who won the 2011 Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and now plays in the American Hockey League.

Derek Roy, who notched 424 points in 738 NHL games and currently plays for Linkopings in Sweden's national league, is another experienced veteran on a Team Canada roster that features 13 KHL players. They include former Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens, who has posted a 2.29 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in winning 19 of 31 starts for Russian team Ufa Salavat Yulayev this season.

Team Canada opens training camp on Jan 28 in Riga, Latvia, where it will play exhibition games on Feb 4 and 6 before opening its gold medal defense against Switzerland on Feb 15. Canada has won nine gold medals and 13 overall since hockey debuted at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Meanwhile, Team USA's lineup in Pyeongchang will also feature several KHL players, including Ryan Zapolski, who is expected to be the starting goalie. Zapolski has a 1.61 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 34 games for Jokerit this season.

The OAR team ("Olympic Athletes from Russia") will feature KHL stars Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Andrei Markov, whose combined experience includes nine NHL All-Star selections and 11 Olympic appearances.

The KHL begins a 32-day Olympic break on Jan 25, returning to action on Feb 26. Kunlun Red Star resumes its season on Feb 27, hosting Barys Astana in Shanghai.

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