Monday, the National Hockey League made the unfortunate and unavoidable decision to not send the world’s best hockey players to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, a decision which is a lose-lose situation for all parties – the International Olympic Committee, the NHL, its players, and hockey fans worldwide. For the first time since the IOC expanded the participation requirements to include professional athletes, a policy change which has proved extremely profitable over the years, we are looking at an Olympic tournament featuring minor leaguers and amatuers for the world’s major hockey powers.
We’re not going to get into the finger-pointing as a result of this situation because the blame for not sending NHL players to South Korea next year can be spread equally between the IOC, the NHL, and the NHL Players Association. What we will do, on the other hand, is take the opportunity to answer “What if USA Hockey sent SPHL players to the Olympics?”
Don’t start thinking crazy thoughts, folks… Next year’s team heading to South Korea will likely be a group of kids playing in the USHL (the USA’s top junior league) and NCAA D1 hockey. We’re only having a little fun in light of an unfortunate situation, so let’s get to it.
Like any international hockey competition, we’re going to pick a 25-man roster featuring three goaltenders, eight defensemen, and 14 forwards. Any player with at least one SPHL game this season is eligible for selection.
- Garrett Bartus (Macon Mayhem) – Bartus has spent most of the season with the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets, but let’s not forget he racked up a 1.98 GAA and .940 SV% in his eight appearances with the Mayhem. Lord Bartus is an obvious pick and the projected starter.
- Lukas Hafner (Columbus Cottonmouths) – Hafner has a great hockey pedigree, a solid Division 1 career at Western Michigan, and has been very successful in his rookie season at both the SPHL and ECHL levels with Alaska and Colorado.
- Brad Barone (Mississippi RiverKings) – Barone, a former Boston College netminder, has worked his way up from the FHL to the Louisiana IceGators in his rookie year. This year, he made the transition from backup to starter in Mississippi and is now hitting his stride.
- Robbie Donahoe (Knoxville Ice Bears)
- Sean Gammage (Pensacola Ice Flyers)
- Ben Kramer (Huntsville Havoc)
- Don Olivieri (Peoria Rivermen)
- Ben Oskroba (Peoria Rivermen)
- Dave Pszenyczny (Peoria Rivermen)
- Kyle Shapiro (Fayetteville FireAntz)
- Joe Sova (Mississippi RiverKings)
Team USA’s defense is a healthy mix of size, playmaking, and puck movement, headlined by Chezy – arguably the league’s best all-around defenseman. We add a trio of playmakers in Sova, Olivieri, and Kramer (the league’s most underrated blueliner). Finally, a pair of redwoods in Oskroba and Gammage.
Speaking of pairings…
Pair 1: Pszenyczny – Olivieri
Pair 2: Kramer – Gammage
Pair 3: Donahoe – Oskroba
Pair 4: Sova – Shapiro
- Johnny Daniels – C (Huntsville Havoc)
- Jake Hauswirth – C (Fayetteville FireAntz)
- John Scorcia – C (Evansville Thunderbolts)
- Berkley Scott – C (Knoxville Ice Bears)
- John Siemer – C (Macon Mayhem)
- Jackson Brewer – LW (Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs)
- Lou Educate – LW (Huntsville Havoc)
- Daniel Gentzler – LW (Macon Mayhem)
- Collin MacDonald – LW (Macon Mayhem)
- Cody Dion – RW (Peoria Rivermen)
- Dillan Fox – RW (Mississippi RiverKings)
- Alec Hagaman – RW (Peoria Rivermen)
- Devin Mantha – RW (Mississippi RiverKings)
- Mike Moran – RW (Mississippi RiverKings)
The American forwards are a typical mix of snipers (Hauswirth, Educate, Moran, MacDonald) playmakers (Daniels, Siemer, Mantha, Fox), and grinders (Dion, Scorcia, Hagaman, Gentzler) with a sprinkling of veteran leadership (Hauswirth, Scott, Mantha). Here’s how we envision the forward lines and special teams for Team USA.
Line 1: Educate – Daniels – Moran.
Line 2: MacDonald – Hauswirth – Mantha
Line 3: Brewer – Scott – Fox
Line 4: Gentzler – Scorcia – Dion
Reserves: Siemer, Hagaman
Power Play 1: MacDonald – Hauswirth – Moran – Pszenyczny – Olivieri
Power Play 2: Educate – Daniels – Mantha – Sova – Kramer
Penalty Kill 1: Scott – Gentzler – Donahoe – Gammage
Penalty Kill 2: Hauswirth – Mantha – Pszenyczny – Oskroba
- Sam Ftorek (Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs)
- Jeff Pyle (Evansville Thunderbolts)
- Kyle Rank (Peoria Rivermen)
We only have two USA-born coaches in the SPHL, so Ftorek and Pyle get the assignments by default. Still, Ftorek has a wealth of playing experience on both sides of the ice and Pyle is a long-time ECHL coach. Most SPHL teams don’t have goaltenders on their coaching staff (Jesse Kallechy in Huntsville is Canadian). Since any team playing in a tournament of Olympic magnitude needs a goaltending coach, we pulled Rank out of retirement – one of the SPHL’s all-time best netminders – to coach up the goaltending.
Sure, we know there’s zero chance we see a team of SPHLers representing the nation in PyeongChang next year, but it’s fun to go through the exercise in picking America’s best SPHL players – and the sure-to-follow debating. Have at it, y’all.