LAMENT ALL you want about the NHL's absence from these Games, but don't ignore all that men's hockey in PyeongChang promises: unfamiliar names with untold stories living out improbable fantasies. What's more Olympic than that? "I guarantee," says U.S. winger Chris Bourque, "not one person thought they would be here."
Take Bourque. He hails from sturdy Olympic stock—father Ray skated for Canada two decades ago—but after playing in just 51 NHL games, making Team USA was a longshot. Or Bobby Sanguinetti, the Rangers' 2006 first-round pick, who has spent the past two seasons in Switzerland. "It's been a long road," the defenseman says, "but this is some satisfaction that you can prove again that you're a good hockey player."
Despite a roster that has more than 3,000 combined NHL games, mostly from captain Brian Gionta, Team USA won't be favored—that honor belongs to the Olympic Athletes from Russia—but improving on fourth place in Sochi isn't an unreasonable expectation.
Then again, who knows how to forecast this field? In goal, the U.S. will rely on 31-year-old Mercyhurst grad Ryan Zapolski. The Russians, likely led by ex-NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk(left) are loaded with high-end KHL talent. Ditto Tre Kronor, largely sourced from the Swedish Elite League. The defending champs, Canada, unveiled a roster that is heavy on NHL experience. So what if the competition level isn't quite as high? The tournament will be unpredictable and exciting—a fine consolation prize.