2014 Winter Olympics: Which Wild players could head to Sochi?
Posted by Nathan Wells on Monday, July 22, 2013
The NHL schedule came out Friday, which was discussed here at great length outside of the Olympics (so yes, if you read all 2600 words know that there could have been more added onto the novel. Also thank you for reading!).
While knowing when the Wild open the season is great, another benefit of the league, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreeing to allow NHL players in the 2014 Winter Olympics is seeing which Minnesota players could head to Sochi.
Short answer: Several. The long answer is after the jump.
Despite being in the second year of a four-year playoff drought, Minnesota wasn't under-represented four years ago. The team sent five players to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, which is likely one or two fewer than 2014. All five were on two European teams. Antti Miettinen, Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom represented Finland while Marek Zidlicky and Martin Havlat both played for the Czech Republic.
Other players with Wild ties (both past and future) included Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra (RIP) on Slovakia, Julien Sprunger suiting up for Switzerland and Dany Heatley winning a gold medal with Canada.
2010 also included a pair of future Wild players on Team USA in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, who scored the game-tying goal against Canada in the final minute. Both are among the 46 players named to America's (AMERICA!) Team Orientation Camp roster - 2 of 9 from the 2010 Silver Medalists - in Arlington, VA August 26-27. They are also both locks to wear the Stars and Stripes on the quest for the first US Gold Medal in men's hockey since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.
"We played well in 2010 and we have a lot of returning players, so hopefully that helps," Parise told NHL.com on Friday. "We didn't know what to expect in Vancouver and sometimes that's a good thing; but now we do know and now we can do better."
Not among the names invited to Arlington on Monday - a list that includes 14 Minnesotans - is Wild forward Jason Pominville. The news is somewhat surprising. Health isn't an issue. According to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Pominville is healthy and symptom-free from a concussion suffered in April. Multiple US Olympic roster projections such as Yahoo and USA Today had the 30 year-old Canadian-American duel citizen (Pominville was raised in Canada but plays internationally for the USA) in as one of the last forwards.
Instead, it appears that youth will be served for 2014. Several players with experience from recent World Junior Championships like Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Nick Bjugstad have been given spots in the orientation camp. Even if they don't make the 25 man roster, the experience will help for future Olympics.
In Sweden, Jonas Brodin has a chance to make the squad. The 20 year-old has previous international experience and was invited to Sweden's camp. Brodin won a gold medal at the 2012 WJC (alongside Johan Gustafsson and then-Wild prospect Johan Larsson). He was on the World Championships roster that year as an 18 year-old.
Newly acquired forward Nino Niederreiter is one of 9 Swiss players in the NHL so the odds are good that he will represent Switzerland (even if Nino won't represent the Wild). The odds are not as good for 2012 6th round pick Christoph Bertschy.
Another person with slim odds to play in Sochi is Dany Heatley. Despite playing for Team Canada in 2010, Heatley was not among the 47 players invited to the Canadian national orientation roster. Injuries and Canada's vast depth have caught up to the 32 year-old.
Finally, the Wild could once again have three players from Finland in the Olympics as Koivu, Backstrom and Mikael Granlund were invited to the Finnish national orientation roster.
Each of the three's chances of making Team Finland varies. Koivu, who captained Finland to gold in the 2011 World Championships, is a lock barring injury to make his third Olympic team. 2014 is a chance to collect one of each medal after winning silver in 2006 along with bronze in 2010.
Backstrom, meanwhile, faces competition in goal. The two-time Olympian continues to be an NHL-caliber goalie with the Wild. However, he is one of many Finnish NHL-caliber goalies. Since 2010 when Backstrom, Mikka Kiprusoff and Antero Niittymäki were the three Team Finland goalies, players like Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask have all shined between the pipes. Each is arguably a top-10 NHL goalie. Backstrom may be a victim of Finland's biggest strength.
Lastly, Granlund falls somewhere between the two. He isn't the lock Koivu is, but doesn't have the competition at forward that Backstrom does. Playing on an Olympic-sized ice should benefit the 2010 first round pick, who struggled at times last season to adjust to the smaller NHL ice. Granlund, who captained Finland's 2012 WJC team and has played in multiple World Championships, will have to show some development this season.
Either way he'll always have this lacrosse goal from the 2011 World Championships
The 2014 Winter Olympics run from February 7-23 in Sochi, Russia. Men's Hockey begins a 12 team tournament February 12th and continues up until the 23rd with the Gold Medal game.
Follow First Round Bust on Twitter @FRBHockey. You can also follow Nate @gopherstate for more Minnesota hockey updates and good ol' fashioned talk about AMERICA.