Everybody loves Olympic hockey! Even people who don’t regularly watch sports will tune in to the Olympic games and root for their country’s finest athletes. Canada, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, and Finland have played some of the most intense, most entertaining, and most competitive Olympic hockey games the world has ever seen. It’s no wonder that after the announcement on April 3 that the NHL will not be sending players to the PyeongChang games in 2018, fans around the world expressed emotions ranging from anger to despair.
Professional skaters haven’t always been allowed to participate in these international games, though. It was only in 1998 when NHLers were given the green light to play for their respective countries in the Nagano Olympics. The rules were changed for many reasons, including the hope that allowing these fan favourites to compete would increase interest in and viewership of Olympic hockey around the globe.
They may have been excited to arrive and participate, but not all hockey players left Nagano smiling. Unfortunately, the Team USA hockey players exited Japan in a less-than-graceful manner, to put it mildly. They positively trashed their lodgings in the Olympic Village. Chairs were broken, fire extinguishers were activated and sprayed liberally indoors, floors were damaged, and beds were ruined. It certainly wasn’t a good way to mark the first year professionals had been invited to the Olympics, that’s for sure.
Along with bad behaviour, there have been some unfortunate shows of underachieving in Olympic hockey over the years. Apparently, just because you’re a professional in the NHL does not mean you have what it takes to play at this kind of international level. Some players thrive and do nothing but dominate the ice, while others succumb to the pressure of these Olympic games like they never have in the NHL.
Some of the names on this list are eyebrow raisers, while others will make you roll your eyes as you remember and agree. Maybe these on the “terrible” list are also remembered by certain NHL officials. Who knows.
15. Amazing: Erik Karlsson
The Sens captain is a hockey miracle. Born in Sweden, Karlsson was drafted in the 2008 NHL and played his first NHL game in 2009. He’s got 456 career points and rarely plays less than 75 games per season. During the 2011-12 season, he set a new Senators record for season points by a defenseman with 78 – almost four times the previous record. With stats like these, Canada was not looking forward to opposing him during the Sochi games.
Karlsson made headlines around the world in 2014 when he played in the Sochi Olympics. Even though he plays for a Canadian team during the regular season, his native Sweden called him up and he put on quite a show! Leading up to the gold medal game against Canada, Karlsson was already the tournament points leader thanks to his four goals and four assists. During the semi-final he scored a flawless power-play goal on Finland, leading his rejoicing teammates to the finals.
14. Terrible: Dustin Brown
This alternate captain for the U.S. Olympic hockey team joined the likes of Phil Kessel and Ryan Suter in 2010, and played alongside Ryan Suter and Patrick Kane in 2014. Brown had been a strong player himself found himself arm in arm with some of the sport’s greatest, but somehow none of this was enough.
The 2014 games started on February 7, and just a month earlier Brown had admitted to having struggled in all aspects of his game so far that year. While he usually made around 50 points per season, he only had 16 at that point, and only garnered three during the month of January. Not a good leadup to the world’s most important athletic tournament. Compared to his 2010 Olympic performance, the games in Sochi showed a bit more effort on Brown’s part; he scored two goals and had one assist, compared to his complete lack of either in the Vancouver 2010 games. It wasn’t enough to clinch the gold, though.
He continued his downward slide after the Olympics too, and in 2016 lost the title of Captain with the L.A. Kings.
13. Amazing: Anze Kopitar
This LA Kings centreman was the only NHL player on the Slovenian Olympic hockey team in 2014. In the season prior, Gretzky himself called Kopitar the third-best NHL player, behind only Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton. The man played 82 games and racked up a whopping 70 points for the 2013-14 season. Not a bad way to lead up to the Olympics!
Slovenia may be a small country, and their national hockey team may have only been ranked 17th in the world when they qualified for the 2014 Olympic games, but it sure has produced a huge talent in Kopitar. His national team may not be high ranking, but he was.
He joined the Kings for the 2006-07 season and his continued success has helped his home country make a name for themselves. The country won its first Olympic game EVER in Sochi, beating Slovakia 3-1, and after which Kopitar stated “I guess now that we have beaten Slovakia maybe they’re not going to mix us up anymore.” It’s also impressive to note that Slovakia had several NHL pros on the roster while Slovenia had only Kopitar. Thanks to their 7th place finish in those Sochi games, Kopitar and his country earned a spot in the 2018 games as well.
12. Terrible: Jonathan Quick
It was widely assumed that Ryan Miller would again be the starting goalie for Team USA in 2014, since the Buffalo Sabres tender had already led the US to a silver medal in the Vancouver games, and was named tournament MVP that year and was named the IIHF’s best goaltender and was named to the All-Star team.
So when Quick was moved up and named starting goaltender for the Sochi games in 2014, it was a bit of a surprise. Okay, so he won a silver Olympic medal. And he’s got both a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy under his belt. Realistically, that should mean that his performance in the world’s most prestigious winter games should be on point. Yet, he didn’t just let in a goal here and there; he let in five goals during a game that should have been a no-brainer.
Not to be too harsh on a guy who was starting his third game in four days. but… Not only was it the United State’s first Olympic hockey game with zero goals in 38 years, that 5-0 game against Finland was their “worst shutout loss in U.S. Olympic history.” For a goalie with Quick’s credentials, this was devastating. But maybe the loss wasn’t his fault. Maybe the team’s defense was seriously off that day. Maybe the Fins were just really that much better. Either way, Quick was a disappointment. The biggest Olympic goal tending disappointment in USA history.
11. Amazing: Teemu Selanne
The Finnish Flash has played a few Olympic ice games, including 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and again in 2014. There aren’t many hockey players who can say they’ve been to the Olympics that many times! His very first Olympic games were in 1992, and he scored seven goals for the Finnish team that year. In 1998, Selanne and the Fins earned a bronze medal and he earned the spot of leading scorer of the games, tied with his team captain Saku Koivu. He was team captain for the 2002 Olympics, but the team placed an unfortunate sixth and Selanne only scored three goals during the whole tournament.
The Scandinavians triumphed in the Turin 2006 games, with the Fins bagging a silver medal after playing the Swedes in the finals. Selanne scored 11 points that year. In 2010 Selanne traveled to Vancouver Olympics, and with his 37th point that was achieved during a game with Germany, he became the leading scorer in Olympic hockey history. He still holds this record.
During the quarterfinals of the Sochi games in 2014, at the age of 43, Selanne became the oldest player to ever win an Olympic medal. It’s no surprise that the media named him MVP of the tournament that year. It also wouldn’t really be a surprise if he decided to have “Mr. Olympic Hockey” tattooed all over his body.
10. Terrible: Jay Bouwmeester
Canada’s youngest ever member of the World Junior Championship team is, unfortunately, also the youngest Canadian Olympic hockey disappointment.
You’ll remember that Scott Niedermayer was Olympic team captain in 2010 and led the team to a brilliant 3-2 win against the USA in the gold medal game. Prior to this, however, he was unable to play in the 2006 Torino games due to a knee injury, and Bouwmeester laced up his skates instead. Before the games in Italy, he was having his best season to date. He was averaging 26 minutes of play time per game, had his career best 5 goals and 46 points… things were looking good.
But, in the six games Bouwmeester played during the Torino games, he scored zero goals. His skills – and pretty much everyone else’s – slipped so badly that Russia triumphed 2-0 against Canada in the quarterfinals. After winning the gold in 2002, this loss was disappointing for the whole nation. In 2010 he had hoped to again be added to the Olympic roster, but he didn’t make the cut. To many others, it would have been more a surprise if the disappointing defenceman had made the team after his lacklustre Olympic performance four years prior.
9. Awesome: Dominik Hasek
Domink “The Dominator” Hasek has been said to tend the goal “the way Kramer enters Seinfeld’s apartment, a package of flailing arms and wild gesticulations that somehow has a perfect logic.” His style might be unpredictable and even “acrobatic” at times, but he gets results.
In 1998, the Czech Republic won their first and only gold medal in Olympic hockey, and Hasek played a huge part in that victory. Of the mere six goals he allowed during these games, only two were during the medal playoffs. The Russians were completely shut out during the gold medal game and the final score was 1-0. It’s doubtful that anyone in the world was surprised when he received the title of “best goalie” for that Olympic tournament.
Hasek played for the Czech’s again during the 2006 Turin games, but unfortunately was injured after only nine minutes of play. They took home the bronze instead of gold that year, and we have to wonder whether that finale might have been different if Hasek had been able to play more.
8. Terrible: Chris Kunitz
Many people thought that the only reason Kunitz was added to the Team Canada roster in 2014 was because of Sid the Kid’s comfort with him and the results achieved by the pair’s on-ice efforts. Kunitz himself agreed that making Crosby feel supported and comfortable was in everyone’s best interest.
However, their chemistry didn’t pan out in Sochi. Kunitz scored one goal in six games, and Crosby had one goal and two assists. Compare that to Crosby’s four goals and 3 assists in 2010 and the numbers speak for themselves. Nobody is arguing that Crosby wasn’t a driving force behind Canada’s gold medal that year, but it wasn’t due to help from Kunitz. Matt Duchene has been one of Canada’s best at the World Championships several times, and he, along with several other world-class players, were sitting out while Kunitz played his lacklustre game. Who knows what they would have been capable of if they’d had more ice time?
7. Amazing: Carey Price
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the nation’s most beloved teams, and Price has been a stellar goalie for them for since 2007. Pretty much every Canadian knows his name! His performance at the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi has been chiseled into the brains of every hockey fan in the country – heck, probably into every resident who watched television at all in 2014.
The 2014 Team Canada roster was beyond impressive, cited several times as being “one of the best defensive teams ever assembled.” Price was a huge presence on this team, making heads spin as he shut out all 31 shots made by Team USA in the semi-finals. Immediately after that, he achieved his second Olympic shutout during the gold medal game against Sweden, earning a golden victory for his team and his country. To sum up, Price triumphed with five successive wins, the tournament’s “best goaltender” title, and a gold medal, all at his very first Olympic games.
There were a lot of “Keep Calm and Love Carey Price” memes circulating on social media in Canada that day in 2014.
6. Terrible: Wayne Gretzky
You’re all losing your minds right now, I know. Bear with me.
Yes, he is the greatest hockey player to have ever lived. But is he the greatest to ever play Olympic hockey? Unfortunately, his stats say he’s not! Maybe he would have thrived on the responsibility had he been named team captain. Or maybe he would have nailed the shootout had he been allowed to be one of the five chosen forwards to participate.
The only Olympic gold that Gretzky ever won was in 2002 when he was the team’s executive director. Granted, he only actually played in one Olympic tournament, the Nagano 1998 games, but he didn’t score any goals. In six games he only managed nine shots and three assists. This, from a guy who had 90 points during that same season in the NHL, including 23 goals and 67 assists. It was natural to assume that he’d be a rockstar in Nagano.
So what gives? He was by no means the worst NHLer to play Olympic hockey, nor did he give the worst Olympic performance of any pro hockey player. It’s easy to say, though, that he had the most potential and the most skill of any NHL Olympian, and yet was also the most surprising letdown.
5. Amazing: Sidney Crosby
One of the best Crosby memes says “I don’t always score at the Olympics, but when I do it’s the gold medal game.” And many others are various versions of how people don’t like Crosby during the regular NHL season since he threatens their favourite teams, but every Canadian adores him during an Olympic year!
The wildly talented Pittsburgh captain has two Olympic games under his belt, including the Vancouver and Sochi games. His shocking and stupendous “golden goal” scored just over seven minutes into overtime at the 2010 gold medal game has become just as legendary (if not more so) than Carey Price’s shutout performance. As if he needed to bolster his Olympic image, the only goal Crosby scored during the 2014 Sochi games was during the final playoff game against Sweden, propelling the team to a 3-0 win.
Having won the Stanley Cup, the World Championship hockey title, and two Olympic gold medals, Crosby has become a member of the Triple Gold Club. He’s also the first member of this club to have captained the teams in all three tournaments. This guy IS hockey gold.
4. Terrible: Rob Zamuner
Oh boy. The fans were not happy when Mark Messier was shafted in favour of Zumuner for Team Canada in 1998. Messier had previously captained two NHL teams to championships and had racked up 84 points in 71 games that very season. Yet left-winger Zamuner, with his minus-31 that season, made the cut. He played for Tampa Bay that year, and the Bolts lost 55 of the 82 games they played. Nobody seems sure how those numbers painted Zamuner in an Olympic-friendly light.
Let’s not be totally unfair. Zamuner didn’t have a horrible performance in the Nagano games. He did score a goal during the Canada vs. USA game that sent them to the quarterfinals. But would he even have made the shot if Gretzky hadn’t given him a picture-perfect pass? The former Bolt’s faceoff abilities were renowned, but they sure didn’t give Team Canada any advantages during this tournament. Maybe he wasn’t the worst performer in the 1998 Olympic games, but was the most confusing choice, and definitely the most begrudged and resented player on the ice.
The defensive skills that caught the attention of Bob Clarke were sorely missed during that game. As one reporter put it, “Mark Messier in decline was better than Rob Zamuner in his prime.”
3. Amazing: Joe Sakic
Sakic has participated in three Olympic games for Canada in 1998, 2002, and 2006. He left many disappointed fans when he announced his retirement in 2009, just months before the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver.
In 1998 he attended his first Olympic games, but an injury prevented him from showing his true abilities; he scored only three points in four games, and Canada placed a disappointing fourth. However, his wrist shot was dreaded by goalies all over the world, and the fear proved legitimate when he attended the Salt Lake City games in 2002. After a 50 year drought, it was Sakic’s spectacular wrist shot that sunk the Americans in the gold medal game. This enormous achievement propelled him into the Triple Gold Club and landed him the title of tournament MVP that year in Utah.
He was team captain for the Sochi games in 2006, but even his exemplary leadership wasn’t enough to garner another win for Team Canada. The team placed a disappointing seventh that year, and Sakic had only three points. Nevertheless, that 2002 performance earned him a spot in Canadian hockey lore for all eternity!
2. Terrible: Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin is a Russian wonder player. In his 2013-14 season with the Washington Capitals, he played 78 games and finished off with a solid 79 points. He already had 38 NHL goals by the time he joined Team Russia that year. Nobody on the Russian Olympic team that year was “more important, more beloved or under more pressure than Ovechkin.”
There’s no denying that the team’s – and the country’s – hopes were pinned on Ovechkin. At that point in the NHL season, the incredible left-winger had already scored 40 goals. Actually, he was among the league’s top scorer for several years. During the 2006 games in Turin he scored five goals, including the game-winner that sent Canada packing. In 2010, hopes were high again, and Ovechkin offered two goals and two assists, but the Russian team only made it as far as the quarterfinals. These games would have fuelled both the player and the country’s desire to dominate on home turf in 2014.
Unfortunately, “the Great 8” was a bust. Russia scored a goal only 77 seconds into his first Olympic game that year, and then nothing. The biggest letdown of the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament. And no doubt he still feels the sting.
1. Amazing: Marian Hossa
Although currently right-winging for the Blackhawks, Hossa has seen 20 seasons of NHL hockey with various teams and has played four Olympic tournaments with Team Slovakia.
He first joined Team Slovakia for the Olympics in 2002, the same year he represented his country for the third time at the World Championships. Thanks to an old rule that prevented NHL players from participating in qualifying games for their countries, Hossa was only allowed to play two games in Salt Lake City in 2002, but he still managed to score six points. During the 2006 Turin games the team was so promising, winning every game in the prelims until they came up against the dreaded Czechs in the quarter finals. Hossa’s strength and stamina were obvious as he played six games and finished with 10 points in those games. Hopes were high for Slovakia again in Vancouver, 2010, and they actually beat the famed Team Sweden for a spot in the semi-finals. Although the Slovaks eventually lost to Team Canada that year, Hossa managed 3 goals and 6 assists in the tournament, despite a lingering shoulder injury.
Then, in his fourth Olympic games in 2014, Hossa was favoured as the highest scorer and best forward on the team. The Slovakians finished a disappointing fourth, despite Hossa’s two goals and valiant efforts.
As you can see, even though Team Slovakia hasn’t won Olympic gold, it is most definitely not any fault of Hossa’s. The man is a machine.
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