Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Remembering the biggest stars who never played for Team Canada in a best-on-best tournament

The Winter Olympics are here, but if you’re an NHL fan you may not have noticed. This was supposed to be the big showdown, a rare best-on-best international tournament that would determine the world’s top hockey nation. Instead, COVID delays gave Gary Bettman his opening to withdraw NHL players. What we’re left with is… well, some decent stories and some solid hockey, sure. But it’s certainly not a best-on-best on the men’s side, because the best aren’t there.

We might have to wait until 2026 for our next chance, or maybe we’ll get that World Cup in 2024. Either way, it will mean a long gap between opportunities for most of today’s stars. Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, has still never had a chance to represent his country in a true best-on-best – the NHL didn’t go to the Olympics in 2018 or 2022, and he was forced onto a hybrid Team North America in the 2016 World Cup. Now he’ll be closing in on 30 by the time he gets to put on a red maple leaf when the spotlight is brightest.

If it’s any consolation, McDavid isn’t alone. As it turns out, you can build a reasonably decent roster out of Canadian NHL stars who never got the chance to represent their country in a best-on-best tournament. So that’s what we’re going to do, with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies worth of snubs and/or missed opportunities.

The ground rules here are that we’re looking for players who starred in the era of big best-on-best tournaments, which is to say nobody before the 1970s. “Best on best” means the Summit Series, the Canada Cup/World Cup, and the Olympics in the years that NHL players went, but not things like the World Championships or World Juniors, or the various all-star exhibitions that were played from time-to-time. And active players are allowed, but only if we’re pretty sure that they won’t be on a Canadian roster in the future, so no McDavid.

(Full discloser, I was originally going to include all of the major hockey counties in this roster, before realizing that pretty much all the selections would end up being from Canada. Apologies to my many American friends out there. If it’s any consolation, you’ve at least got that women’s hockey silver medal to look forward to.)

As always, we build a great adequate team from the net out…


We’ll start off with what might be a controversial question: What do we do with goalies who were taken as back2ps or third strings but never saw the ice? On the one hand, they didn’t actually play in a best-on-best, which is what we said we were looking for. On the other, unlike skaters who never got into a game, the goalies would have at least pulled on the uniform, sat on the bench, and been (kind of) part of the game.

When in doubt, I usually lean towards the side that’s going to make things more difficult for me, so I’m going to say that goalies who suited up but didn’t play aren’t eligible here. That means no Eddie Belfour, (who was the third goalie at the 2002 Olympics), Marc-Andre Fleury (third string at the 2010 Olympics) or Ron Hextall (who was the backup at the 1987 Canada Cup but watched Grant Fuhr get all the action).

As it turns out, we can still get a Hall-of-Famer into the mix, although we have to go back a few decades to do it. Let’s start with Bernie Parent, who managed to win back-to-back Vezinas and even finish as Hart Trophy runner-up in the mid-70s, but was never invited to play for Team Canada. That includes the 1976 Canada Cup, where Gerry Cheevers, Glenn Resch, Rogatien Vachon and Dan Bouchard got the call. That sounds like a snub, but the reality is that Parent had a neck injury and was advised not to play. Bad luck for him, but good news for us, as he’ll be our starter.

I thought about trying to slip in Billy Smith as the backup, since he was hurt before he could get into the 1981 Canada Cup tournament and was snubbed in 1984. But his injury came in warmup, which means he was actually in uniform, so it feels a little dicey. Instead, I’ll make Eric Duhatschek happy by going with Mike Vernon, who was good enough to win a pair of Stanley Cups but couldn’t find his way onto a Canada Cup team.

If we need a third-string option, we could look to guys like Chris Osgood, Kirk McLean, Braden Holtby and J.S. Giguere. But with Parent and Vernon, we should be pretty well set. Let’s see if we can build a decent blueline for them.


Hey, here’s a fun thing I learned while doing this exercise: Defense is by far the hardest position to fill.<2p>

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