Tom Renney was the last man to coach a Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team before NHL players took the reins. It was 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, an event that produced a memorable gold-medal final. Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg competed in a heart-stopping shootout duel. Corey Hirsch was heroic in goal for Canada. When Sweden ultimately won the gold medal, the championship was so well-received it was commemorated on a Swedish postage stamp.
Now, a generation later, Renney is the president of Hockey Canada and may be facing a familiar yesteryear scenario.
Increasingly, it is looking as though the stalemate among the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League over the latter’s Olympic participation will drag on – and eventually oblige all national federations to fill out their men’s Olympic hockey rosters with non-NHL players.
If that happens, Hockey Canada is getting ready – just in case.
Back in the fall, Hockey Canada hatched a tentative Plan B, hiring former NHL goalie and two-time Olympian Sean Burke to oversee its participation in two European hockey tournaments – the Deutschland Cup and the Spengler Cup – with a view to evaluating Canadian hockey talent playing abroad.
Renney says he remains in favour of best-on-best competition at the Olympics, but isn’t shrinking from the challenge if it goes the other way.
“We were good in 1980 [without NHL players] and, ultimately, we got ourselves to the point where we were winning silver and within millimetres and milliseconds of gold medals in 1992 and 1994,” Renney said. “Those were special teams and special times. So there’s a bit of me saying: ‘whatever happens, we’ll be ready to go – and we will be.’”
Complicating matters for Canada is the number of different recruiting scenarios that could present themselves if the NHL stays home.
Right now, Burke’s scouting mission focused mostly on Canadians playing professionally in Europe, most of them in either Russia or Switzerland.
2018 Olympic hockey tournament: A tale of two Canadas
2018 team (with NHL players)
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames; Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues; P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators; Marc-Édouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks; Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings; Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks; Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins; Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers; Nathan McKinnon, Colorado Avalanche; Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres; Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets; Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars; Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Tavares, New York Islanders; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
2018 team (without NHL players)
Zach Fucale, Brampton (ECHL); Drew MacIntyre, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Ben Scrivens, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Danny Taylor, HC Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)
Chay Genoway, Jokerit Helsinki (KHL); Geoff Kinrade, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL); Chris Lee, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL); Patrick McNeill, Ingolstadt ERC (Germany); Shaone Morrisonn, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Maxim Noreau, SC Bern (Switzerland); Blake Parlett, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Mat Robinson; HC Dynamo Moscow (KHL); Jonathan Sigalet, Frolunda HC (Sweden); Daniel Vukovic, Genève-Servette (Switzerland)
Chris Didomenico, SCL Tigers (Switzerland); Andrew Ebbett, SC Bern (Switzerland); Matt Ellison, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Cory Emmerton, HC Ambri-Piotta (Switzerland); Andrew Gordon, Linkoping HC (Sweden); Dustin Jeffrey, Lausanne HC (Switzerland); Brandon Kozun, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL); Jonathan Matsumoto, Red Bull Munchen (Germany); Jacob Micflikier, EHC Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); David McIntyre, EV Zug (Switzerland); Marc-Antoine Pouliot, EHL Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); Mason Raymond, Geneve-Servette (Switzerland); Derek Roy, Omsk Avangard (KHL); Greg Scott, CSKA Moscow (KHL); James Sheppard, EHC Kloten (Switzerland); Nick Spaling, Genève-Servette (Switzerland); Paul Szczechura, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL); Maxime Talbot, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)