International Ice Hockey Federation

It's a big world out there

It's a big world out there

Looking back at non-NHLers’ impact on Olympics

Published 14.02.2018 03:15 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
It's a big world out there
Sweden's Peter Forsberg will always be remembered for arguably the coolest shot in hockey at the 1994 Olympics against Canadian goalie Corey Hirsch. That was before his lengthy NHL career. Photo: Al Behrman / Associated Press
Nobody disputes the NHL’s status as the world’s top pro league. Equally indisputable is the fact that you don’t have to be an NHLer to shine at the Olympics.

With the men’s tournament kicking off on 14 February, we’re about to discover how true that is again in PyeongChang.

Many fans may not realize that the Winter Games have been open to professionals from all leagues and countries for more than 30 years. On 20 October 1986, the IIHF officially opened the door for pro participation at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. IIHF President Dr. Gunther Sabetzki stated: “There are no restrictions. Canada can use Wayne Gretzky if it wants to.”

However, both before and after that announcement, we’ve seen magnificent Olympic performances from former NHLers, future NHLers, and players who never suited up in North America.

As we stay tuned for 2018’s non-NHL shining lights, let’s take a quick look at players from 10 different nations who weren't in the NHL when they stepped up at the last 10 Olympics.

1980: Mark Johnson (USA)

With no disrespect to captain Mike Eruzione, goalie Jim Craig, or head coach Herb Brooks, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” might not have been so miraculous if it weren’t for Mark Johnson’s clutch goal-scoring. In the U.S. college players’ 4-3 upset over the Soviet Union, the nifty 22-year-old University of Wisconsin centre tallied twice, including the crucial 2-2 goal with one second left in the first period, which got legendary netminder Vladislav Tretiak yanked.

After celebrating Olympic gold in Lake Placid, Johnson played 669 NHL games for five clubs. He also appeared in eight IIHF World Championships and coached the U.S. women to silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

1984: Erich Kuhnhackl (West Germany)

Even though Finland and the U.S. weren’t the hockey powers in 1984 that they are today, finishing ahead of them at the Olympics was still huge for the workmanlike West Germans. Erich Kuhnhackl paved the way for the surprising fifth-place result, leading the tournament with 14 points. The hulking Czech-raised centre from EV Landshut had a hat trick and an assist in an 8-1 romp over Yugoslavia, a goal and three assists in a 9-4 thrashing of Italy, and two goals and an assist in a 7-4 win over Finland, among other highlights.

The IIHF Hall of Famer, who was named Germany’s top player of the 20th century, is the father of two-time Stanley Cup champion Tom Kuhnhackl of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

1988: Vyacheslav Fetisov (USSR)

As Borje Salming’s defence partner on the IIHF’s 2008-voted Centennial All-Star Team, Fetisov needs no introduction. As the on-ice general of the Soviet “Green Unit” with Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, and Alexei Kasatonov, he was still in his prime at age 29 when he won his second Olympic gold in Calgary in 1988. He proved it with a personal Olympic best of 13 points to lead all defencemen, including two goals and two assists in a wild 7-5 win over the Americans. Fetisov would win two Stanley Cups with Detroit a decade later, but international play was where he ruled.

1992: Joe Juneau (Canada)

Notoriously intelligent, Juneau earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in three years and built his own plane. Brett Hull once quipped: “Joe Juneau is a rocket scientist. How can I be smarter than him?” The two-time All-American dazzled with his puck-moving genius at the Albertville Games before his 828-game NHL career, racking up 15 points en route to silver in Dave King’s swan song as Canada’s Olympic head coach.

1994: Peter Forsberg (Sweden)

One hand. That’s all it took for Peter Forsberg to inscribe his name in the Olympic history books at age 20. When veteran Tre Kronor stars like Mats Naslund and Hakan Loob declined the opportunity to shoot again in the climactic gold medal shootout against Canada, “Foppa” jumped in and beat goalie Corey Hirsch with a one-handed move originally pioneered by Kent Nilsson at the 1989 Worlds. Sweden won its first Olympic crown, and the MODO Ornskoldsvik product who uniquely blended talent and toughness was en route to the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club.

1998: Pavel Patera (Czech Republic)

In the unbelievable Czech run to gold in Nagano, Dominik Hasek stole the show with his semi-final shootout performance against favored Canada and his shutout versus Russia in the final. But Pavel Patera tied for the team scoring lead (5 points) with fellow Kladno native Jaromir Jagr, and was quietly effective all tournament long.

Highlights? The 26-year-old playmaking centre set the tone with the first goal in the opening 3-0 win over Finland. Patera also won the draw on defenceman Jiri Slegr’s 1-0 goal against the Canadians. And he repeated that feat on Petr Svoboda’s gold-medal clincher. Today, this four-time IIHF World Champion also has a room named after him at Sport Hotel Sletiste in Kladno.

2002: Andrei Mezin (Belarus)

“Sometimes a gun without bullets can shoot,” said Mezin after Belarus shocked Sweden 4-3 in the Olympic quarter-final in Salt Lake City. Defenceman Vladimir Kopat’s infamous winner from center ice on Swedish goalie Tommy Salo is what everyone remembers best, but if this diminutive, acrobatic goalie hadn’t made 44 saves at the other end against superstars like Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund, and Nicklas Lidstrom, the upset never would have happened.

Belarus finished fourth at those 2002 Games, and while the Chelyabinsk-born netminder became an IIHF World Championship all-star in 2006 and 2009, his second of three Olympic runs remains his signature achievement.

2006: Ville Peltonen (Finland)

Never has Finland come as tantalizingly close to Olympic gold as in its Turin run. Tournament scoring leaders Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu hogged the headlines, but Peltonen, one of the smartest players in Finnish hockey history, was also a catalyst from Day One.

The veteran HC Lugano left wing set up both of Olli Jokinen’s goals when Finland opened with a 5-0 romp over Switzerland. He also got the opening goal and an assist in both the 4-3 quarter-final win over the Americans and the 4-0 semi-final win over the Russians – the latter possibly the most perfect game a Finnish national team has ever executed. Even in the heartbreaking 3-2 gold medal loss to Sweden, who got the 2-2 tying goal? That’s right: Peltonen.

Despite three separate cracks at the NHL, this 1995 World Champion was simply better on the big ice. Today, Peltonen coaches HC Lausanne in Switzerland.

2010: Richard Zednik (Slovakia)

Zednik deserves to be remembered as a difference-maker, not just the fortunate survivor of an incident where Florida Panthers teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate sliced his neck in 2008. The skillful left wing was playing for the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl when he joined the Slovak national team for his second Olympics in Vancouver. And while tournament scoring leader Pavol Demitra captured everyone’s imagination, Zednik contributed consistently. He put together a four-game point streak, winding up with six points as the Slovaks marched to their best-ever Olympic finish (fourth place).

Now 42, Zednik serves as an assistant coach with his native Banska Bystrica.

2014: Kristers Gudlevskis (Latvia)

Want to grab the attention of your future boss? Try making a whopping 55 saves against one of the most powerful Olympic gold-medal teams in history. That’s what 21-year-old Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis did in a 2-1 quarter-final loss to Canada. Executive director Steve Yzerman’s squad never trailed once in the Sochi tournament, but this Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, who hadn’t seen a minute of NHL action, nearly helped his tiny Baltic nation pull off an upset that would have arguably have equalled the “Miracle on Ice” for shock value.

Gudlevskis, who mostly split time between the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch and the ECHL’s Florida Everblades that season, would play three games in total for Tampa before getting dealt to the New York Islanders last summer.

 

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