As the Olympic hockey rosters were announced throughout early January for the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a handful of names may have sounded familiar to Chicago Wolves fans.
They certainly did to head coach John Anderson.
Five players who have suited up for the Wolves, all coached by Anderson, were named to their respective countries’ rosters for the 2014 Winter Olympics, set to take place at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Feb. 7-23.
Goaltenders Kari Lehtonen (Finland) and Ondrej Pavelec (Czech Republic) and defensemen Arturs Kulda (Latvia), Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), and Henrik Odegaard (Norway) were all selected to help their countries earn a medal.
“I understand the pride thing, and it’s just such an awesome, awesome venue and stage to be on,” Anderson said. “You see these guys making millions of dollars and they’ll go over there and play for nothing, just for that opportunity to play for their country.”
All five Olympians skated under Anderson during their Wolves careers. Additionally, Lehtonen, Pavelec, and Kulda worked with Anderson in the National Hockey League when he served as head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers from 2008-10.
Lehtonen, currently of the Dallas Stars, and Pavelec, in goal for the Winnipeg Jets, both played themselves into the Wolves record books as two of the elite netminders in team history. Not only have they donned the Wolves sweater – the duo are fifth and sixth, respectively, in games played for the franchise – but have led the team to victory. Lehtonen owns the second-most wins in team history with 61, behind only Wolves general manager Wendell Young, while Pavelec is not far below in fifth place with 51.
The goaltending duo has also seen playoff success, tied with each other in second place for most postseason games won (16). Lehtonen, a two-time American Hockey League All-Star, backstopped the Wolves to two consecutive playoff berths, including a trip to the Calder Cup finals in 2005. Pavelec started every game in the Wolves cage during the 2008 postseason en route to the franchise’s most recent Calder Cup championship.
On defense, Kulda posted 46 assists and 58 points in 197 games with Chicago, spanning four seasons from 2007-11. The stay-at-home defenseman was a member of the Calder Cup-winning 2008 squad as a 19-year-old, skating in 21 postseason contests and contributing five points and a +12 plus/minus rating. Kulda is playing this season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Bouwmeester spent less than one season with the organization, in 2004-05 when he played in front of Lehtonen in both players’ final year in the AHL. The two-way rear guard appeared in 18 regular-season and 18 postseason games, putting up six goals and nine points to finish off the year before being held scoreless in the team’s run to the Calder Cup finals. Bouwmeester currently defends for the St. Louis Blues.
Odegaard, the youngest of the group, is the only current member of the Wolves organization. Signed by Chicago in October, the blueliner is on assignment with the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League. He competed in training camp with the Wolves and appeared in the team’s first game of the 2013-14 campaign, posting two penalty minutes.
Anderson, while excited to watch players he has worked with take the international stage, cannot help but feel a twinge of jealousy. During the coach’s prime playing years, the Olympics were still an amateur event. The rules were not revised to let professionals compete until 1988, and the NHL did not allow its players to participate until 1998.
“I said, ‘I don’t understand why professionals can’t go,’ ” Anderson recalled. “ ‘I love my country just as much as the next person, and I’ll play my rear end off for nothing just to go over and play.’ ”
While he never had the opportunity to represent Canada in the Olympics, he did don the national jersey for the World Junior Championships in 1977 and the World Championships in 1983 and 1985. In 1985 he skated alongside greats including Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman.
Despite the bittersweet aspect, Anderson plans on watching the Olympics and the players that he helped develop come February.
“I know how they would feel and how awesome [the Olympics] would be,” Anderson said. “And, again, I’m just a little jealous.”
The Wolves play through the NHL’s Olympic break, with seven games and AHL All-Star festivities during the pause. But Anderson will be using any free time he has to see how the games play out over in Russia from his post in Chicago, watching players he coached compete on the biggest stage in the world.