On April 3rd, 2017, the National Hockey League announced that the league’s schedule would not allow for an Olympic break and all NHL players would be unavailable to represent their respective countries. The matter was officially closed and left the National Canadian Men’s ice hockey team relying heavily on ex-NHL players currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Europe or for the American Hockey League (AHL).
Fast forward to January 10th 2018 when Canada’s Olympic Hockey team, for the games held in South Korea, is announced. A few ex-NHL veterans stand out: Gilbert Brule, Mason Raymond, Derek Roy, Wojtek Wolski, goaltender Ben Scrivens and Toronto-native Chris Kelly. On February 8th, Hockey Canada announced that Kelly would lead his country for gold as the men’s ice hockey team captain. It’s been a long road for Kelly, whose last season in the NHL was 2016-17. He is not under an NHL contract this season, thus making him available to play in the Olympic games.
Chris Kelly: Captain Canada
Kelly’s career playing professional hockey has been far from standard. This will be his first Olympic games at the spry age of 37 years. In 13 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, Kelly played in 833 regular season games. He registered 123 goals and 166 assists for 289 points, adding another 12 goals and 32 points in 120 playoff games. Chris Kelly was a vital teammate for the Senators team when they went to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals and won a ring in 2011 with the Boston Bruins.
One may say that it should come as no surprise that Kelly was named as captain of the Canadian Olympic team. Only a few months ago he participated in the 2017 Spengler Cup in Switzerland as a member of Team Canada, also bringing home a gold medal from what is believed to be the longest running international ice hockey tournament. Hockey Canada clearly believes that Kelly’s experience, being a veteran in various leagues and recent tournaments are integral to his strong leadership skills. This year’s Olympic roster has been selected from six different leagues across Europe and North America, and now gains some leadership with Chris Kelly.
Kelly’s journey to bringing home gold for Canada can be ascended from his hockey career. After Kelly’s last season with the Ottawa Senators, he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, 2017. According to Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa showed no interest in re-signing the centre However, Kelly’s story would not end there as Kelly finally signed a professional tryout contract with the Edmonton Oilers on September 10th, 2017. Unfortunately, on November 3rd, 2017 it was announced that Kelly did not make the team. It was reported that Kelly talked his future over with his family and decided to keep training until the end of the November. Kelly stated to the Canadian Press as seen on TSN.ca “If nothing kind of presented itself then maybe it was time to stop playing and look at other avenues after hockey.”
Although times seemed bleak for the Canadian all-star, Neil Davidson stated in The Canadian Press, “Chris Kelly didn’t know what to expect this season. Certainly not a trip to the Olympics”.
Kelly’s fate turned when the Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion gave Kelly a call and offered him a professional tryout (PTO) with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Belleville Senators. Kelly signed his original PTO with Belleville on November 24th, 2017 and he was back in the Senators organization. It was then that he came into contact with Canadian Olympic team general manager Sean Burke and head coach Willie Desjardins who coached three seasons (2014-17) for the Vancouver Canucks.
On December 20th, Kelly was released from the Belleville Senators and participated in the 2017 Spengler Cup during the Christmas holidays. During the tournament in Switzerland, Kelly had an assist in four games and won a gold medal with Team Canada. Kelly returned home and signed his second PTO on January 9th, 2018 with the Belleville Senators. He went on to play 16 games total with the Senators AHL affiliate. Kelly registered two assists and 10 penalty minutes.
As previously stated Kelly was named to the Canadian national ice hockey team on the 10th of January and 15 days later Kelly was released from his PTO in Belleville allowing him to join the rest of his Olympic teammates in Latvia.
Team Canada is participating in a series of exhibition games in Latvia in preparation for the Olympics in South Korea. On February 3rd, Kelly was in Latvia with the majority of the Canadian National Hockey team, but nine players were still missing as coaching staff finalized team details for Pyeongchang. The Canadian team beat both Latvia and Belarus 2-0, before beating Sweden yesterday.
After leading Team Canada to victories in Latvia, Kelly stated on February 6th, 2018 in regards to his captaincy announcement, “I never thought this would happen. I’ve just taken it day by day and when an opportunity has presented itself, it’s been great to be able to jump on it.” As the saying goes, it gets better with age, the 37-year-old father of three was announced Captain of the 2018 Olympic men’s ice hockey team.
After the Olympics
Currently, Kelly doesn’t have any professional hockey contracts on the table. Kelly has stated that he does not plan to return to the NHL. Therefore, the 2018 Winter Olympics could be the last high-level hockey he experiences. So why not go out with a bang? With a veteran captain leading our Nation, Kelly may just be able to finish his career a with an Olympic medal around your neck as the Canadian National anthem plays.
The Olympics will take place February 9-25.
The hockey tournament starts February 14th.
Canada’s first game is February 15th against Switzerland at 7:10 am EST.
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