A fairy tale once came true and it happened to “U-S-A, U-S-A,” but this isn’t 1980 and Pyeongchang isn’t Lake Placid.
So, pockets full of miracles a thing of hockey history, sit back and enjoy the lads with intriguing backstories who will represent the Red, White and Blue in this quite less than best-on-best Olympic competition that will provide a showcase for Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish defenseman who will go first in the NHL draft in June and, who, if the standings remain stagnant, the Rangers would have a 3.3 percent chance of selecting by winning the lottery jackpot.
The boys from Russia, called the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the wake of the massive doping scandal of 2014, are loaded and expected to win gold for the first time since 1992 in Albertville, when they weren’t Russia then, either, instead known as the Unified Team that included athletes from six of the 15 republics of the former U.S.S.R.
The tournament might — might — catch on here if the band of street urchins wearing the USA jerseys play to an unexpected level and compete for a medal. Otherwise, romance will be left to the storytellers and story-makers from other countries.
Norway has gone 0-8 in its two Olympic tournaments, but as Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello said last week, “I’m the only [NHL player] that’s missing, so maybe we have a chance to win a game for the first time. Maybe against Germany.”
Slovakia has hired former NHL head coach Craig Ramsay to run the team that includes 38-year-old winger Ladislav Nagy, who last played in the NHL in 2007-08 and who is making his first appearance in the Olympics after representing his country in seven previous international events.
In goal for Switzerland there is Jonas Hiller and on defense is Rafael Diaz, the former Ranger who — who knows? — might even make a return to Broadway following the end of his season with EV Zug if injuries keep mounting and the trade deadline creates even more openings.
The Czech Republic, which passed on Jaromir Jagr and has failed to win a medal in the previous two Olympics, has a veteran team fronted by Martin Erat.
Finland, which has won medals in five of the last six games, won’t have Teemu Selanne for the first time since 1994, but presents Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft, on defense and Nashville’s Eeli Tolvanen, the No. 30 pick, on the wing. Rangers fans can only dream that Predators GM David Poile is so smitten with Rick Nash that he would swap the projected future star for No. 61.
Team USA coach Tony Granato is in his second year behind the Wisconsin bench, and though friends have called that his dream job, could he become a candidate for the job on Broadway if the Rangers move on from Alain Vigneault after the season? Granato starts the Games with Ryan Zapolski, a KHL all-star with Matt Gilroy’s Jokerit team who never played above the ECHL level in North America, in goal. Winger Jordan Greenway, the first African-American to represent the States in the Olympics, is a Minnesota prospect whom the Rangers would have interest if the Wild get in on Ryan McDonagh, either now or at the draft.
Sweden comes with Dahlin on the blue line, Jhonas Enroth in nets, former Ranger Viktor Stalberg on the wing and with Joel Lundqvist, playing in his first Olympics after representing his country seven times at the World Championships, at center.
Canada is seeking to three-peat here with Ben Scrivens in goal and a team featuring NHL-deep Chris Kelly, Rene Bourque, Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond and Wojtek Wolski up front.
This tournament is there for the Russians By Any Other Name — OAR, to be precise — to win (or lose, depending on one’s perspective). Pending Ranger Ilya Kovalchuk will join a cast that features Pavel Datsyuk and Vadim Shipachyov up-front and the banished Slava Voynov on defense. Igor Shestyorkin, the Tsar in waiting to emigrate to Broadway when his KHL contract expires following next season, is expected to share backup duty with future Islander netminder Ilya Sorokin behind the veteran Vasily Koshechkin.