Beckett Hockey

KIDS’ GAMES

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The NHL’s COVID-based decision not to release its players for the 2022 Beijing Olympics is entirely logical based on the informatio­n at hand. e thing is, sports – especially at the Olympic level – isn’t about logic. It’s about passion. And as the NHL-free 2018 PyeongChan­g Games proved, hockey fans will have trouble drumming up that same level of passion this February without seeing Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, et al. laying it all on the line with national pride and personal legacy at stake.

But while one window of opportunit­y has closed, another has opened. And it could have significan­t implicatio­ns for the hobby.

Although rosters were still being compiled as this issue went to press, it is clear that many national federation­s are looking to next-generation stars to lead their hunt for gold in China. And that means many collectors will get their first look at some of these future hobby heroes on the world’s biggest stage.

Team USA, which boldly included future NHLers Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, and Will Borgen in 2018, is going all-in with 15 collegians in 2022. Of those, 13 already have been dra ed by NHL teams and three of them are first-round selections: Michigan’s Matty Beniers (second, 2022/Seattle), North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson (fi h, 2020/Ottawa), and Michigan’s Brendan Brisson (29th, 2020/Vegas).

e team also boasts three of the top five point-per-game players in college hockey. Harvard’s Nick Abruzzese (124th, 2019/Toronto) leads the nation with 1.62 points per game, Minnesota State University-Mankato’s Nathan Smith (91st, 2018/Winnipeg) is third with 1.50, and Harvard’s Sean Farrell (124th, 2020/Montreal) is fi h at 1.46. e team will be backstoppe­d by Strauss Mann, an undra ed keeper currently starring in the Swedish league and expected to be a prized free agent this summer, and Drew Commesso (46th, 2020/Chicago), the Boston University star who was the starter for Team USA at the 2022 World Juniors.

Canada is expected to bring Owen Power, the top pick at the 2021 NHL Dra by Buffalo and a gold medalist from the 2021 World Championsh­ips. e team might also include Mason McTavish (third, 2021/Anaheim), Kent Johnson (fi h, 2021/Columbus), and Kaiden Guhle (16th, 2020/Montreal), all of whom showed well during their brief time at the 2022 WJC.

Meanwhile, gold-medal favorite Russia invited first-rounders Yaroslav Askarov (Nashville), Shakir Mukhamadul­lin (New Jersey), and second-rounder Kirill Marchenko (Columbus) to its pre-Olympic training camp along with a dozen other NHL dra ees.

All told, more than half of the NHL’s teams will see a significan­t part of their future on display in Beijing. at’s why, even if it’s not the tournament we want now, we may look back on it in just a few years and remember these Games as the coming-out party for the next generation of hobby stars. You might want to tune in.

Al Muir - amuir@beckett.com • @almuirsi on Twitter

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