When the NHL decided to withdraw from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, much of the allure to the men’s ice hockey tournament was lost. Instead of seeing teams made up of the best players in the world, we will now see rosters full of former NHL players, current American Hockey League (AHL) players, prospects, and top European professionals.
“It’s just a tough situation for everybody,” Kane said shortly after the NHL pulled out of the games. “You always want to represent your country every time you get a chance. Felt like I would’ve had the chance to be in a leadership role this year, so it would’ve been fun to play with a lot of younger players and some great players around the league.”
It sure would have been interesting to see what other members of the Chicago Blackhawks roster would have been playing in China. Marc-Andre Fleury sure built a case to play for Canada. Dominik Kubalik had a shot at representing Czechia, and Philipp Kurashev was a dark horse for the Swiss roster. We will never know how this would have played out. However, if you spent the last few years watching Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs hockey, there are still plenty of reasons to follow the men’s tournament.
Drew Commesso in Red, White & Blue
Many who follow the Blackhawks’ prospect pool were hoping that the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship would be Commesso’s coming out party. It sure looked like that would be the case in his lone start, a 3-2 win over Slovakia, before the tournament was postponed. The Blackhawks’ top goaltending prospect will now be one of three goaltenders on the United States squad.
In addition to the World Juniors and the Olympics, the 19-year-old has also played at the World Championships, so the international stage is nothing new.
“Every time that I do it, it’s just so cool, and I always cherish it, and I’m always very thankful that I get to do it,” he said about representing the United States. “To get to do it at the Olympics stage, I’m kind of at a loss for words. It hasn’t totally sunk in yet.”
The Blackhawks drafted Commesso in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (46th overall) with the pick acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Robin Lehner trade. He is in his second season as the starter for Boston University. He has allowed just 18 goals in his last 10 games for a .941 save percentage (SV%).
Stanley Cup Connections for Sweden
Team Sweden not only has the best jerseys in international hockey, but they have five players who have connections to the Blackhawks and IceHogs. The biggest is center Marcus Kruger, who played 472 games for the Blackhawks and was part of the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup wins. He is in his third season with the ZSC Lions in the Swiss National League (NL), where he serves as an alternate captain.
Next up is forward Joakim Nordstrom, who played in 54 games for the Blackhawks, including three postseason games during the 2015 run to the Stanley Cup. He had 26 goals and 52 points in 92 AHL games with the IceHogs. He’s currently playing for CSKA Moskva in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) after spending last season with the Calgary Flames.
Other Blackhawks connections include Lucas Wallmark, who played 16 games in Chicago last season before being traded to the Florida Panthers in the trade the netted Henrik Borgstrom, Brett Connolly, and Riley Stillman. Forward Fredrik Olofsson was a fourth-round pick (98th overall) by the Blackhawks in 2014 and played two games for the IceHogs in 2019. Goaltender Lars Johnasson, the starter for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, spent the 2016-17 season in Rockford, appearing in 39 games.
Two Former IceHogs Don the Maple Leaf
Team Canada would have been the gold medal favorite had the NHL participated. Instead of a team loaded with superstars, they have a roster made up of exciting young players and professional veterans.
One of Canada’s three goaltenders is former Blackhawks’ prospect Matt Tomkins. He was initially selected in the seventh round (99th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After a successful college career at Ohio State, he spent four seasons within the Blackhawks organization. He played 36 games for the IceHogs and another 79 for the Indy Fuel in the ECHL. He is currently playing for Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he has a .913 SV% in 23 games.
Veteran forward Chris DiDomenico also made the cut as a reserve. The 32-year-old center was a sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2017. He has 27 games of NHL experience with the Ottawa Senators. The Blackhawks acquired him for the first time in 2010. He came over with Viktor Stalberg in a trade for Kris Versteeg. He had two goals and 17 points in 74 AHL games over two seasons before heading to Europe.
Chicago reacquired DiDomenico midway through the 2017-18 season. He had eight goals and 23 points for the IceHogs during the regular season and then scored seven goals and 18 points in 13 Calder Cup Playoff games. He has spent the last four seasons in the NL.
Arty Party in Russia
Russia, or the ROC, is the defending goal medalist and has a good shot at repeating with a team full of former NHLers and KHL veterans. The most recognizable name is former Blackhawks’ center, Artem Anisimov. He played 291 of his 771 NHL games in Chicago, along with stints for the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Senators. He had at least 20 goals for the Blackhawks for three straight seasons between 2015-16 and 2017-18. This season, he has eight goals and 19 points in 27 KHL games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
Anisimov will be joined by the Blackhawks’ 2016 second-round pick Artur Kayumov. Turning 24 on Feb. 14, the young winger has yet to play in North America. He is a teammate of Anisimov’s on Lokomotiv. He has 10 goals and 19 points in 42 games this season.
Frolik Skates for Czechia
To win a Stanley Cup, you need to have superstars, but you also need balance with players who eagerly accept less glamorous roles. The 2013 championship team had several of these guys, including left wing Michael Frolik.
The Blackhawks acquired Frolik, the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, on Feb. 9, 2011, from the Panthers for Jack Skille. He had 11 goals and 34 points in 136 regular-season games over parts of three seasons. He became a fixture on the penalty kill unit and took on tough defensive assignments. In the playoffs, Frolik had two penalty-shot goals, including one in that memorable 2013 series against the Detroit Red Wings. He had three goals and 10 points during that 2013 title run, including the primary assist on Dave Bolland’s Cup-clinching goal against the Boston Bruins.
Frolik has 858 games of NHL experience over 13 seasons with the Panthers, Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Flames, Buffalo Sabres, and Montreal Canadiens. He is playing for Lausanne HC in the NL this season, where he has seven goals and 14 points in 25 games.
Other players with Blackhawks and IceHogs connections include Finnish defenseman Ville Pokka. He was acquired in the 2014 trade that sent Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders. He never played in the NHL and was eventually used to reacquire DiDomenico. Peter Regin, who played 21 games for the Blackhawks in 2015, is skating for Denmark. Finally, both Mark Dano and Tomas Jurco will be skating for Slovakia.
There are many great storylines to follow, even without the NHL stars. Blackhawks fans have a lot to keep them interested over the next couple of weeks. The preliminary round games start on Feb. 9. We have a great crew covering both the men’s and women’s tournaments, so please keep checking in for features, recaps, and all things Olympic hockey.