It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the men’s Olympic hockey tournament without NHL participation. It’s been 23 years, in fact.
With the news that the NHL will not pause their season to participate in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, a number of non-NHL players will be getting the call to play for their country.
Lillehammer 1994 was the last Olympic hockey tournament that the NHL did not suspend its season for. While people paid attention to it, it was nowhere near at the level of hype it was once the best players in the world joined for the 1998 tourney in Nagano. In those days, the Canada Cup (and the World Cup of Hockey that followed it) was a bigger deal for hockey fans.
So who participated in the 1994 Olympics?
Professionals were allowed to participate in the Olympics in 1994, just not professional players committed to NHL teams.
Traveling national teams were also around in those days. Team Canada would play exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament, for example.
There are a number of recognizable names from Canada’s team in 1994, although most had not excelled in the NHL at that point.
Petr Nedved, who recently had acquired Canadian citizenship, was the most accomplished NHL player on the team. Nedved was in a near season-long holdout with the Vancouver Canucks at the time, allowing him the ability to play in the Olympics.
Canada’s starting goalie was Corey Hirsch, who was an AHL goaltender with the Binghamton Rangers at the time. Paul Kariya was just 19 back then, but was a key contributor prior to beginning his career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Defenceman Adrian Aucoin played 1108 games in the National Hockey League, but was just a bright-eyed 18-year-old in 1994.
Brian Savage, an eighth-round draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens, was also an important player for Canada that year. So was Todd Warriner, a fourth-overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Remember Todd Hlushko? Me neither, but the former Calgary Flames left winger was a member of that team.
Canada was coached by Tom Renney, who went on to be the head coach of the Canucks, Rangers, and Oilers in the NHL.
Canada eventually lost to Sweden in the gold medal final, with the game decided in a shootout. This was the first exposure many people got to Peter Forsberg, who scored a shootout goal by using a move that is now known (appropriately enough) as “The Forsberg.”
This was Canada’s silver-winning roster:
Canada won silver at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville too. That was a team that had Eric Lindros, Joe Juneau, and Sean Burke on it.
Prior to the 1988 Olympics, professional players were not allowed to participate, putting Canada at an even larger disadvantage. In fact, Canada withdrew teams from the Olympic tournament altogether in 1972 and 1976, over a dispute over what constituted a “professional” hockey player.
The Soviet Union dominated the pre-professional Olympics, as their best players were not deemed to be professionals by the IOC. The USSR won six gold medals in seven Games between 1964 and 1988. Canada’s last gold medal before NHL participation was all the way back in 1952.
What will the Olympic tournament look like without NHL players this time around? It’s hard to say, although Russia should have a huge advantage given the number of talented players from their country that play in the KHL. Ilya Kovalchuk, who plays for St. Petersburg SKA, will be eligible to play. Pavel Datsyuk is also playing in the KHL and could play for his country, if he doesn’t retire before then.
Canada will likely have to find players playing in European leagues, as they do for the Spengler Cup each December.
Is Hnat Domenichelli still playing?