Tony Granato’s U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team doesn’t have any former University of Wisconsin players on the roster, but four former Badgers players are on the American women’s hockey squad.
Forwards Meghan Duggan, Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight and goaltender Alex Rigsby were announced Monday as being part of this year’s U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team.
If there aren’t any late changes, it’ll be the first time since 1972 that the U.S. men’s Olympic team hasn’t featured a current or former Badgers player.
The men’s team isn’t without UW influence, however. Granato, the Badgers head coach, has the same position with the Olympic team.
One of his assistants for the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February is former UW defenseman Chris Chelios, a four-time Olympian as a player. The team’s general manager is former Badgers forward Jim Johannson, Granato’s Olympic teammate in 1988.
Because the NHL is not stopping its season to allow its players to participate in the Olympics for the first time since 1994, teams have to be built with those not on NHL contracts.
That left players from European pro teams, players out of contracts or whose deals are only for the American Hockey League, and collegians.
Otherwise, Granato and Co. could have chosen from a handful of former Badgers players, including NHL and Olympic veterans such as Ryan Suter, Joe Pavelski and Ryan McDonagh.
Former UW skaters Robbie Earl and Tom Gilbert, each of whom are playing in Europe, were among those under consideration. They weren’t among the 23 players announced Monday; two more goalies will be added later.
Fifteen of the 23 play in Europe, while four current NCAA players were included.
“From a selection process, it’s been a battle for us on all the players we have available to us,” Granato said. “We’re real happy with the players that we announced today. I think we’ve put together an outstanding group of players that will represent us well come February and give us a great chance to do really well and compete for a medal.”
On the women’s side, the U.S. roster has a familiar set of former Badgers players.
Duggan and Knight each made her third Olympic team, while Decker, a Dousman native, earned a spot on her second roster.
Rigsby, from Delafield, is on her first Olympic team.
Madison native Amanda Kessel, who played collegiately at Minnesota, also is a part of the team for a second straight Olympics.
Duggan is the second player to captain the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team twice, joining Cammi Granato, Tony Granato’s sister.
Cammi Granato led the Americans to the gold medal in the first Olympic women’s hockey tournament in 1998, but Canada has won the past four times. Four years ago, Canada overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the U.S. in the gold-medal game.
“After that, we had to figure out what we were made of, what we wanted to accomplish over these last couple of years, and really put ourselves in a position to achieve the goal that we want to achieve as a program and as a team and as a country going into this next Olympics,” Duggan said.
On Dec. 22, Canada named four former Badgers women’s hockey players to its Olympic team: forwards Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull; defenseman Meaghan Mikkelson; and goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens.
It marks the first time in four Olympic Games that have featured UW women’s players that more of them have appeared on Canada’s roster than the U.S. team. Another player, forward Emily Clark, has a year of eligibility remaining at UW.
The nine UW women’s players in the Olympics matches the all-time high of 2010, when the Mark Johnson-coached American team had seven Badgers players.
There could have been 10 from UW in the Olympics, but forward Annie Pankowski, who has one year of collegiate eligibility remaining, was cut from the U.S. team in December. She is planning on enrolling in school for the spring semester and will practice with the Badgers before returning to play next season.
The women’s hockey tournament in Pyeongchang starts Feb. 11, while the men’s competition runs Feb. 14-25.
Granato is expected to miss the Badgers’ final four regular-season games: at home against Minnesota on Feb. 9-10 and at Ohio State on Feb. 23-24. He is the second Badgers coach to lead a U.S. Olympic team. Bob Johnson went on sabbatical in the 1975-76 college hockey season to coach the U.S. to a fifth-place finish and took three UW players — Steve Alley, Bob Lundeen and John Taft — along with assistant coach Grant Standbrook with him.
Alley, Lundeen and Taft were the first three of 18 Badgers players to skate for the U.S. in an Olympics. Four others have played for Canada and one for Austria.
There’s still a chance for the UW men’s team to continue its Olympic player streak if Canada chooses a former Badgers player — two have been under consideration during events this season.
Defenseman Cody Goloubef, who’s playing on an American Hockey League contract, helped Canada win the Spengler Cup on Sunday. Forward Rene Bourque, who’s playing in Sweden after a 12-year NHL career, has been a part of Canada’s team in two international tournaments this season.