Old friend Ryan Boulding wrote this piece, and may contribute more in the future. Follow Ryan @rboulding on Twitter. Listen to his “The Hockey Show” every Saturday at noon on Mile High Sports Radio.
By Ryan Boulding
When the NHL announced that its players would be kept out of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, it seemed as if the tournament would once again fade into the background noise of so many gifts stolen away by the league over the years.
Another lost opportunity to see the world’s best players compete on a rink of random size in a country of dubious social standing all for the pride of their home nation.
Then the news came that the immaterial damage to the schedule caused by rampant outbreaks of covid-19 would be fixed by using the empty time that had previously been a scheduled break in the action. NHL fans rejoiced.
Surely there would be no reason to watch the hockey-like product occurring at strange times in a foreign land, right?
Despite the fact that no NHL-contracted players are headed to China—and that bossman Adrian Dater has made how little he cares about this subpar tournament well known—I’ve found a reason for Colorado Avalanche fans to cheer on a variety of teams playing in the Winter Games: former players.
That’s right, there’s a passel of onetime Avs players—some of whom were maybe an odd favorite of yours once upon a time—taking up the mantle of various nations in this pinnacle of sports competitions. So without further ado, here’s your guide to former Avalanche players (and Avs-adjacent guys) at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Let’s start with the most Avalicious lineup in the tournament. The maple leaf is being represented by a bevy of prior players—most of all the squads in the show. Canada has four guys who’ve donned the burgundy and blue, some who may be clearer in your memory than others.
One such face is flow and mustache maestro Mark Barberio, who played 113 games on Colorado’s blue line between 2017 and 2020. Besides having one of the strongest manes on the club, Barbs managed six goals and 19 assists after his trade from the Montreal Canadiens—before the Avalanche’s logjam of promising defensemen made him expendable.
Speaking of blueliners, another name Avs fans might recognize is Brandon Gormley. He may not have been a standout during his 26 games in Denver, after being traded from the Arizona Coyotes for Stefan Elliott, but he made his debut on Oct. 21, 2015, when veterans Brad Stuart and Tyson Barrie were out of the lineup.
Next on the list is center Ben Street, who had two blink-and-you-missed-it stints with the Avs. He saw time in three games during the 2014-15 season and another seven in 2015-16, where he recorded four penalty minutes and finished a minus-1. The majority of Street’s time with the organization was spent in the American Hockey League, where he featured prominently for the Lake Erie Monsters and San Antonio Rampage.
If none of these guys float your nostalgia boat, there’s Daniel Winnik rounding out the Hockey Canada roster. Sure, Winnik is more of a player from your dad’s Avalanche than this newfangled Cale Makar/Nazem Kadri juggernaut, but he did his best in 143 contests between 2010 and 2012. Winnik finished his time in the Mile High City with 16 goals and 28 apples.
Four former Avs not enough reason to start singing “O Canada” in the wee hours of the morning? There’s a few Avalanche-adjacent guys to help sway you to support our fellow North Americans. Defenseman Maxim Noreau, who never quite cracked the NHL lineup, but he did play seasons with the Monsters and Rampage. That almost counts, right?
What about recently replaced head coach Claude Julien? You may know him from coaching such teams as the Montreal Canadiens—twice—and the Boston Bruins, but Julien also played 14 games for the Quebec Nordiques in the mid-1980s.
A knock against Team Canada? Former (Phoenix) Arizona Coyotes legend Shane Doan is the general manager, and I know how salty fans are that the Coyotes ended the Avalanche’s incredible 18-game home win streak. Don’t worry, Colorado’s most exciting sports team still hasn’t lost in regulation in 21 matches.
The Swiss enter the world’s (sometimes) greatest hockey tournament as an underdog with two legacy Avs players that many might recognize, which isn’t always the case.
Netminder Reto Berra will be protecting the cage for Switzerland when the puck drops at the Wukesong Sports Centre and National Indoor Stadium. Berra saw time in 35 games with Colorado from 2013-16, and he finished with a 10-13-2 record. Some may remember the night in Ottawa (Oct. 16, 2014), when Berra was injured in the first period. With starter Semyon Varlamov placed on IR that morning, rookie Calvin Pickard made his NHL debut.
While they didn’t play together in Colorado, Berra will be joined by fellow former Avalanche forward Sven Andrighetto. At times a favorite of some and at others a frustrating conundrum, Andrighetto joined the club in 2017 after a one-for-one trade with Montreal for Norwegian forward and Aladdin lookalike Andreas Martinsen. Andrighetto went on to skate in 133 contests, netting 20 goals and adding 35 helpers during his time with the organization.
Need one more reason to root for the Swiss? Assistant coach Tommy Albelin was drafted by Quebec in the eighth round, 152nd-overall, of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he scored five goals and 27 apples in 74 games played with the franchise.
If you can get past the whole human rights abuses and genocide thing, Big Brother will happily be there to accept you with a hazmat suit and open arms as you declare your undying love and total commitment to the host nation. Plus, if you’re willing to get that far, there are two players that you can find a reason to get behind: Ye Jinguang and Shimisi Jieruimi.
Don’t recognize them? Well, that’s because those are adopted Chinese names.
The former is none other than winger Brandon Yip. Yip made the leap from Boston University to the Avalanche in the 2009-10 season, skating in 103 games across parts of three campaigns. His tenure with the Avs wrapped up with 23 goals and 18 apples before he was scooped off of waivers by the Nashville Predators in 2012.
The latter is goalkeeper and Michigan native Jeremy Smith, whose only time in the NHL was a 10-game stint during the season that shall not be named. After eight grueling years in the AHL, including one with the Springfield Falcons under assistant coaches Jared Bednar and Nolan Pratt, Smith got the call-up and even a win in Denver—5-3 versus the Buffalo Sabres. He finished 1-6-1 overall and was back in the AHL the following year.
If that isn’t enough, China’s goaltending coach is a former member of the 1980-81 Colorado Rockies—the hockey team, obviously. Before the Rockies moved to New Jersey and became the Devils, Jari Kaarela backstopped the club for all of five games, ending his tenure 2-2-0 with a 6.00 goals-against average and a .809 save percentage. Sources tell us, that’s bad.
Welcome to the ROC! Get it. Like from the movie? Anyway, ROC is the team featuring Russian players but not officially representing Russia the traditional way but as the Russian Olympic Committee… because Russia is banned for being big, fat cheaters. Remember the Russian doping scandal that unfolded between 2014 and 2018? That’s why.
Anyway, if none of that bothers you there’s one guy worth cheering for on the roster: Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigo, as he was affectionately called, joined the Avs in the blockbuster trade that saw Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn head to Buffalo in return for Grigorenko, Russian rearguard Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, and a second-round draft pick that ultimately turned into A.J. Greer.
Grigorenko’s inclusion in the trade no doubt had to do with the fact that Avs bench boss Patrick Roy had coached the young lad with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. Anyway, Grigorenko played 149 games with the Avalanche and potted 16 goals and 34 assists in that time.
If you’re looking for a reason to root AGAINST the ROC, look no further than the fact that former Detroit Red Wings star Sergei Fedorov is an assistant coach. The blood feud lives on, right Dater (Dater here: Yessir, available right here at a fair price at Amazon)? No really though, Slava Voynov is also on the team, and he was suspended from the NHL after he was arrested for choking his wife, pushing her to the ground, kicking her, and shoving her into a TV.
If you have any respect for Avs captain and all-around hunk Gabriel Landeskog, supporting the Swedes has probably crossed your mind. So what if I told you that Dennis Everberg was on the squad? Would that pique your interest? The former Avs player and potential Jon Snow stand-in played 70 games for the club between 2014 and 2016, and 66 for Colorado’s minor league affiliates, finishing with three goals and nine helpers in that time.
Something something state of Denmark. You know your Bard. But did you know that Avs trade deadline acquisition forward Mikkel Boedker is repping the Danes at the 2022 Winter Games? Boedker joined the Avalanche when the franchise shipped off Alex Tanguay, Conner Bleackley, and Kyle Wood to the Arizona Coyotes. The move signaled the end of the Roy draft era AND prematurely gave fans hope that the squad was playoff-bound. Narrator: it wasn’t.
On top of having the thicc-est thighs I’ve ever seen, Boedker netted a mere four markers and eight assists during his 18-game rental period in Colorado. In retrospect, it wasn’t one of Joe Sakic’s best decisions as GM. And I’m serious, Boedker could crush a person with those tree trunks.
Denmark has a sweetener for those looking to cheer them on this February. His name is Markus Lauridsen. Moose, as some might know him, was a hit in Denver despite never playing for the Avalanche. That’s right, he was an original member of the beloved Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League. Go Fish!
Lauridsen had six tallies and nine helpers in 30 matches with the Fish and added another eight goals and 32 apples in 137 games across parts of three seasons with the Lake Erie Monsters in the AHL.
Here are three things you should know about Slovakia according to the dubious website slovakia.com. First, Angelina Jolie, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Newman, and Ivan Reitman all had parents or grandparents from this great nation. Second, the altar of St. Jake is the tallest Gothic wooden altar in all of the whole world. Third, there’s a geyser in Herľany that spouts every 36 hours. Are these things true? I don’t know.
I do know that Austrian-born center Marko Dano is representing the nation in China and that he played eight games with Colorado during the 2018-19 season. Another fun fact about Dano is he was coached by Bednar and Pratt during his time with the Springfield Falcons, and he played there with Jeremy Smith too! Whoa.
Team Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is home to former Avalanche greats like Milan Hejduk and Jan Hejda, but neither of them are donning the country’s sweater this year. One previous player who is, however, is puck stopper and nice guy Roman Will. Will is best known for his 18:28 of ice time in relief of a flu-stricken and goal-riddled Calvin Pickard during what would ultimately be a 6-1 loss at the San Jose Sharks. Will stopped 2-of-3 shots in his debut but spent the rest of his time with the Lake Erie Monsters and even the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL.
Lukas Sedlak is also on the squad. Who is he? Another guy that Bednar and Pratt coached with the Springfield Falcons and the Calder Cup champion Lake Erie Monsters.
Mikko Rantanen could be a workhorse for Leijonat, but instead he’s probably headed to a beach somewhere to sip virgin piña coladas and get a little rest and relaxation. So Finland’s lone connection to Denver will have to be via goalie Jussi Olkinoura, who backstopped the University of Denver Pioneers for two campaigns from 2011 to 2013. Olkinoura went 22-14-8 with the Pios before heading on to a career spent mostly in the ECHL.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A rag-tag team of misfits comes together to create perfect on-ice chemistry on the path to achieving hockey greatness. No, I’m not talking about Disney’s The Mighty Ducks. I’m talking about the potential for the red, white, and blue to bring home the gold this year!
Remember left-shot defenseman David Warsofsky? Well, he’s on the team. Warsofsky saw just 16 games of action with the Avalanche, where he had five assists, but he spent two seasons with Colorado’s various minor league affiliates as well.
The stars and stripes also feature what Avs fans hope will be a longtime member of the blue line in prospect Drew Helleson. Selected in the second round, 47th overall, of the 2019 NHL Draft, Helleson is taking a sabbatical from his third season with Boston College to represent America abroad. The six-foot, 191-pound native of Farmington, Minnesota will be looking to prove himself in front of the world—and Avs brass. Rooting for Team USA and this kid is basically like rooting for the Avalanche in the future but from today.
I’ll even sweeten the deal by tossing in Nick Shore, a tried and true local that grew up playing Jr. Pioneers hockey at the University of Denver before joining the Pioneers for 115 games. Shore put up 34 goals and 59 assists during his time in Denver, earning a selection from the Los Angeles Kings in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Shore’s brothers, Drew and Quentin, also played at DU. The youngest brother, Baker, bucked the trend and went to Harvard.
Need more? Okay. Last one. David Quinn is managing the squad from behind the bench. Who is he, you ask? Well, first let me stop rolling my eyes and say that no, he isn’t JUST the former New York Rangers coach who was replaced in the offseason by Gerard Gallant. Quinn was the head coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, Colorado’s affiliate at the time, from 2009-12. After that, he got the nod as an assistant coach under Joe Sacco for the 2012-13 season.
Yes, that is the year goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere went off to me about the players worrying about their Vegas trip, and the team ended up getting Nathan MacKinnon at the draft.
With no connections to Germany or Latvia, you’re limited to just 10 whole teams to root for—either as a collective like someone who barely cares about anything, you nihilist, or individually. Regardless, there’s at least some tangential Avalanche mojo in Beijing this year.