Russia’s ban from the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics could force Hockey Canada to drastically alter its course in assembling a men’s national team.
After the NHL pulled out of participating in the Winter Olympics on April 3, Hockey Canada decided to use top-level players from other professional leagues, mainly based in Europe. However, the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top professional league, announced on Nov. 4 that it might withdraw its players from the Olympics if Russia was sanctioned for its doping program at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Hockey Canada’s proposed Olympic roster has included up to 19 players currently in the KHL. Here are five key players who could be affected by a potential boycott:
BEN SCRIVENS (goaltender – Salavat Yulaev Ufa) — The former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie started in all three of Canada’s games at the Karjala Cup, a tune-up tournament for the Olympics held in Helsinki, and appeared in two other exhibition games. In those five appearances, he has a 1.34 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Barry Brust (Switzerland’s National League) and Justin Peters (Germany’s Elite League) have served as his backups and would be unaffected by a KHL boycott.
ERIC O’DELL (forward – HC Sochi) — O’Dell spent most of his professional career in the American Hockey League, playing in the minor systems of the Winnipeg Jets. His value to Canada is as a hard-nosed centre, winning faceoffs and playing excellent defensive hockey. He has nine goals and 15 assists in 31 games with HC Sochi this season with an impressive plus-17 rating. He also scored for Canada at the Karjala Cup.
GILBERT BRULE (forward – Kunlun Red Star) — Canada struggled to score against Switzerland, Sweden and Finland at the Karjala Cup but Brule was a highlight. The 30-year-old forward had two goals and an assist at the tournament. He has 12 goals and 14 assists in 31 games for Kunlun Red Star in 2017 after being traded from Traktor Chelyabinsk six games into the season.
SIMON DESPRES (defenceman – HC Slovan Bratislava) — Despres played for Canada in the Karjala Cup and is on the roster again for the upcoming Channel One Cup that begins on Dec. 13 in Moscow. The six-foot-four, 218-pound Despres is by far the largest defenceman on Canada’s proposed Olympic roster. Most of Canada’s defensive corps plays for KHL teams, with six on the Channel One roster and seven on the Karjala roster.
MAX TALBOT (forward – LOKOMOTIV YAROSLAVL) — Talbot is arguably the most accomplished player on Canada’s theoretical Olympic roster. The 33-year-old Talbot had 91 goals and 113 assists in 704 NHL games split between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. He scored both of Pittsburgh’s goals in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings, helping the Penguins bring home the NHL championship. He’s in the midst of his second season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.