With the beginning of the men’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this week, the eyes of the hockey world have turned to what will be the biggest and most important hockey tournament to hit the ice, well, since the last Olympic hockey tournament.
And one thing people will see when Canada, and when the rest of the teams in the tournament hit the ice, is a large contingent of former Kelowna Rockets representing their countries in what is being called the feature event of the 2014 Olympics.
No less than six Kelowna Rockets alumni will play in the Olympic hockey tournament, including defencemen Shea Weber and Duncan Keith, who have been paired together on the Canadian blueline in practice before Canada’s first game, as well as Jamie Benn, who is playing in his first Olympics for Canada.
“I’m obviously very excited to be part of the whole Olympics in general,” Benn told the Dallas Morning News. “To put on this jersey and represent your country in such a big event, it means a lot. For a Canadian to represent your country in hockey, it’s pretty special and it definitely means a lot to me.”
Weber and Keith are both back after winning gold in 2010 and Weber is an assistant captain with Team Canada.
“It’s definitely a huge honor,” he said on NHL.com. “You look at that dressing room and you see how many captains there are from their respective clubs and you know any one of those guys could have done the job.”
Other former Rockets playing in the Olympics are Alexander Edler (Sweden), Lauris Darzins (Latvia) and Thomas Raffl (Austria).
“We’re very proud of all of our former players and having six alumni in the Olympic tournament is something very special,” said Rockets president/GM Bruce Hamilton. “It’s going to be great to watch how the tournament and see how our former players perform.”
The Rockets alumni are part of a larger group of Western Hockey League graduates that are on Olympic rosters.
Twenty-nine WHL graduates will participate in the 2014 men’s hockey tournament in Sochi. The Olympic men’s hockey tournament includes 12 national teams. Eight of those 12 teams boast at least one WHL graduate on the roster.
Canada, the defending Olympic Gold medalist, leads the way with eight WHL graduates included on the roster.
Slovakia features eight WHL graduates on its Olympic roster, including Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins as well as brothers Marian and Marcel Hossa, who both played for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. The men’s hockey tournament began on Wednesday and concludes with the gold medal game on Feb. 23.
WHL Graduates Playing on Olympic Hockey Teams:
Michael Grabner (Spokane Chiefs)
Thomas Raffl (Kelowna Rockets, Swift Current Broncos)
Stefan Ulmer (Spokane Chiefs)
Gerhard Unterluggauer (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Jamie Benn (Kelowna Rockets)
Jay Bouwmeester (Medicine Hat Tigers)
Ryan Getzlaf (Calgary Hitmen)
Dan Hamhuis (Prince George Cougars)
Duncan Keith (Kelowna Rockets)
Patrick Marleau (Seattle Thunderbirds)
Carey Price (Tri-City Americans)
Shea Weber (Kelowna Rockets)
Czech Republic (4)
Radko Gudas (Everett Silvertips)
Martin Hanzal (Red Deer Rebels)
Petr Nedved (Seattle Thunderbirds)
Michal Rozsival (Swift Current Broncos)
Lauris Darzins (Kelowna Rockets)
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Ivan Baranka (Everett Silvertips)
Milan Bartovic (Tri-City Americans, Brandon Wheat Kings)
Zdeno Chara (Prince George Cougars)
Marcel Hossa (Portland Winterhawks)
Marian Hossa (Portland Winterhawks)
Tomas Kopecky (Lethbridge Hurricanes)
Martin Marincin (Prince George Cougars, Edmonton Oil Kings)
Andrej Meszaros (Vancouver Giants)
Bostjan Golicic (Calgary Hitmen)
Alex Edler (Kelowna Rockets)
Nino Niederreiter (Portland Winterhawks)
Roman Wick (Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge Hurricanes)