×

College stars, including from Michigan Wolverines, eyed for US Olympic hockey team

Michigan defenseman Owen Power skates during a Wolverines’ practice in Ann Arbor on Sept. 22. (AP file photo)

By STEPHEN WHYNO

AP Hockey Writer

Jake Sanderson felt bad that he would be missing a handful of games at North Dakota to play at the Olympics.

When he expressed that sentiment to his college teammates and coaches, the star defenseman was greeted with support. It was already an easy choice for Sanderson to suit up for the United States in Beijing, and that made it even simpler.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s kind of something you can’t really pass up. It’s the Olympics. You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to play in the Olympics in your lifetime.”

After the NHL decided to withdraw from the 2022 Games, an opportunity of a lifetime was suddenly available for Sanderson, Michigan’s Owen Power and Matty Beniers, and other players in the U.S. college ranks with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada eyeing the NCAA for top talent to fill their rosters. College players deciding whether to leave school for a few weeks to go to Beijing can look no further than the 2018 Olympics for some strong evidence in the “yes” column.

Anaheim’s Troy Terry, Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway and Seattle’s Ryan Donato all skated for the U.S. in Pyeongchang on a team made up of mostly older professionals playing in Europe. They’ve since combined to play in 611 NHL games.

The top two NHL picks in 2021 — Power, who went first to Buffalo, and Beniers, who went to Seattle — have each been invited to play for Canada and the U.S., respectively. Michigan teammates Brendan Brisson (U.S.) and Kent Johnson (Canada) are also Olympic candidates.

U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and coach David Quinn believed the Olympic experience was a strong selling point, even taking pandemic and college duties into account.

One additional motivation is that the world junior championship was canceled last month over fears of a virus outbreak, and the Olympics could serve as something of a do-over for that tournament for several players under the age of 20.

Mel Pearson, who is coaching Michigan with a powerhouse roster and a legitimate shot at a national championship, has told players he’s supportive of them going to the Olympics.

“Opportunities like that, they don’t come along that often,” Pearson told reporters last weekend. “We’ll fully support them and look forward to getting them back once they get home with a medal.”

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https:// twitter.com/AP_Sports