PARK CITY, UTAH – Tony Granato gets it. He understands why so many people still are lamenting the NHL’s decision to skip the Winter Olympics, because he also loved watching the world’s best players chase the gold medal at the past five Games.
But the coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic team loved the 1980 Miracle on Ice, too. While the 2018 Olympics won’t be an exact duplicate of that scenario, Granato believes his collection of players from college, the American Hockey League and European pro leagues will play with a similar spirit and passion. Monday at the Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, Granato revealed more details on how the U.S. Olympic team will look at the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The 25-player roster will be built around a core of Europe-based pros. It will not get together until Feb. 9, limiting the time that college players — who could include Wild prospect Jordan Greenway of Boston University — will be away from their teams.
USA Hockey officials are watching a pool of about 100 players and could add more to the list. The roster will be announced sometime around Jan. 1.
“I think we have lots of players in our country and in our talent pool that will give us the same kind of excitement we had [at the 1980 Olympics] in Lake Placid,’’ said Granato, whose Olympic duties will require only a short break from his job as Wisconsin’s head coach. “I thought [having NHL players at the Olympics] was great for our game. But this is a great opportunity for these guys.
“We have a great talent pool available to us. We’ll be able to field a team that will be exciting, fun to watch and will compete for a medal.’’
The NHL announced in April it would not participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, because these Games would not offer enough potential reward for the league to interrupt its season. Some players considered joining their national teams anyway, but the International Ice Hockey Federation recently confirmed that any player on an NHL contract would not be eligible. Among AHL players, only those on one-way contracts will be allowed to play in the Olympics.
Greenway, chosen by the Wild in the second round of the 2015 NHL draft, and Troy Terry, a University of Denver forward and Anaheim draft pick, are top contenders for the team and joined Granato at the Media Summit. The coach said both “could be playing in the NHL right now,’’ demonstrating that the U.S. team will have some NHL-caliber talent.
Granato views the Europe-based pros as a good base for the team, because they already are playing on Olympic-size ice for teams whose schedules will not wear them out before February. A group of those players — along with Granato and his Olympic staff — will represent the U.S. at Germany’s Deutschland Cup in November, the only pre-Olympic tournament the Americans will play.
“We’ll get a pretty good idea at that tournament of what we have,’’ Granato said. “From that tournament, we’ll probably have a pretty good chunk of our team that will be with us moving forward, then we’ll fill in with the college players and players here in the minors.’’
USA Hockey is employing a wide net of talent evaluators to watch players, and Granato said coaches and officials are meeting frequently to discuss prospects. Though any college players chosen would miss as many as four games during the home stretch of their NCAA seasons, he does not expect pushback from college coaches. “I think it’s a tremendous honor for their programs to have their schools represented on the Olympic stage,’’ he said.
The U.S. will be part of Group B in the Olympic tournament, along with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia. The Americans open play Feb. 14 against Slovenia.
“All the players we’ve contacted, you could see the excitement at the potential of having a chance to represent the country,’’ Granato said. “We’ll play with a lot of passion. We’re going to have a team the American people and hockey fans will be proud of.’’