There is a certain electricity that is present in the hockey community right now – a buzz. Many thought it wouldn’t happen, but the Olympics are now almost here.
But is it really that big of a deal? Various factors contribute to making an Olympic gold medal in hockey such a coveted prize. Firstly, the opportunity is rare. NHL players were last permitted to play in the Olympic Games in 2014. To the dismay of hockey fans worldwide, the 2018 Olympics passed without the involvement of the NHL, something that deflated us all. Finally, 2022 will provide another shot at global hockey supremacy to players and their countries. Indeed, NHL brass has pivoted on its 2018 stance, allowing its players to participate once again.
Furthermore, earning a spot on an NHL-involved Olympic team is typically more difficult than making an NHL roster. This is particularly true in Canada’s case, where an embarrassment of riches around hockey talent means that if you’re selected, you’re essentially a “Rolling Stones” level rockstar. So yes, this is all a huge deal.
It goes without saying then that the Canadian Olympic selection committee feels the pressure. They have their hands full. An enormous field of candidates needs to be assessed. But there is one player who should garner serious consideration around a spot on the team and a significant role within it. That player is Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone, who has the makeup of a perfect Olympian.
Stone’s Early Signs Of Greatness
How do you predict success? Well, one indicator is to look at past achievements. We’re talking hockey here, so numbers are a good place to start.
Stone’s international resume is scolding hot. In 2016, he played for Canada in the IIHF World Championship in Moscow, Russia. If you were a Russian listening to the radio on your way to work during the tournament’s duration, you may have started to believe that Stone was a doctor; perhaps he was in town for the Pharmaceutical Sciences Conference. That’s what you would have thought. Why? Because radio broadcasters must have incessantly talked about how he was putting on a complete clinic.
He finished that tournament dominantly, with four goals and six assists in 10 games. More importantly, he was a major proponent in Canada’s gold medal win at that tournament. Both his performance and experience in Moscow would provide a springboard for his next international gig – the World Championship in Slovakia.
Stone didn’t wait for the gates to open in Slovakia – he tore them down. The Golden Knights forward collected a ridiculous eight goals and six assists for 14 points in the event. But providing context around his efforts shows the true value of his numbers. In a pivotal preliminary game, he tucked in the 6-5 game-winner against Slovakia, while he also broke the tension with an overtime winner against Switzerland in the quarter-finals. Oh, and he also got the scoring going in the semi-final game against the Czech Republic. The guy is a complete gamer. In a tournament that also featured players like Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jack Eichel and Patrick Kane, Stone won the tournament MVP.
International competition aside, Stone has led the NHL in a significant statistical category since 2014-15, his first full season in the NHL. That category is takeaways. He has a jaw-dropping 640 of them in the past half-decade. In a high-stakes tournament like the Olympics, where all mistakes are magnified, having the leader of this category on your squad could make the difference between an early plane trip home, and hearing your national anthem being played in front of the entire world.
Stone Has The Intangibles
We can look to Stone’s international hockey career to get an indication of where things are trending. His trajectory is clearly curving upward. But so what? The Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosbys of the world have lofty international hockey success too, what’s so special about Stone? Well, I said above that the numbers are a good place to start, but there are layers to this.
Stone wasn’t always among hockey’s elite. He wasn’t the first-overall pick. Actually, he didn’t even get picked in the first round. Try the sixth-round, at 178th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. He had to scratch and claw to where he is today. Many players drafted in the first round of NHL drafts never even get a sniff of big-league ice time. But the sixth-round? Good luck. Might as well dial-up Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) coach Mike Keenan for a job filling water bottles in Russia. Early in his career, Stone demonstrated a quality that is tantamount to Olympic hockey success: unblinking resilience.
The perseverance that Stone showed as he transformed himself into a world-class hockey player tips us off to something else – his character. The makeup of a hockey player is a signpost towards how he will respond when adversity strikes. The Golden Knights captain has already shown us that he transmutes setbacks into shiny, new badges of achievement. This is a large part of why Vegas bestowed him with the captaincy in the first place. How does this relate to the Olympics? In a simple, yet important way.
The hockey world has evolved. Hockey is Canada’s sport, but there are dozens of challengers who are eagerly waiting for their opportunity to usurp Johnny Canuck – to throw the Canadians off their icy throne. It shouldn’t be ironic that a knight, a Golden Knight, in fact, is the central character of this piece then; that he should be one of the leaders who is instated at Canada’s Olympic core to protect its hockey kingdom.
The Stone we know today was forged in a crucible that melded draft adversity and early career setbacks, international hockey success, steady personal growth and leadership development. His unique experiences have turned him into one of the best all-around hockey players on the planet.
The curtains to the games will soon be pulled open. Don’t be surprised if Stone is skating around the ice to echoing cheers before they come to a close.
Christian is from Vancouver, B.C. He is a contributor to the Vegas Golden Knights. Christian completed both his history degree and his education degree at the University of British Columbia. He currently works as a high school history teacher. Christian spends his spare time watching, researching and writing about hockey.