'Never thought I'd get a chance': First non-NHL Team Canada in 20 years vows to go for gold
When the NHL announced it wouldn't allow its players to compete in PyeongChang it opened the door—unexpectedly—for a whole new crop of skaters
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This time last year Rob Klinkhammer was playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in a little-known Russian town called Kazan, and looking forward to watching Canada’s best NHL players take on the world at this winter’s Olympics.
Then, he got the call.
Klinkhammer, an Alberta-raised left winger, hit the ice in Pyeongchang this month as a member of Team Canada; one of the skaters called up last minute after the NHL announced in April that they were “opposed to disrupting the 2017 - '18 NHL season” and wouldn’t allow their players to go.
This is the first time in two decades that the league hasn’t allowed its on-ice stars to compete for their countries.
Klinkhammer says he was just as surprised as anyone when he got called up.
“I never thought I’d have a chance to play here,” he said speaking from the hockey rink in Pyeongchang, South Korea where the team practises and plays their games.
“Who doesn't want to see all the superstars put the jerseys on and go to battle for their country? It’s something fans really want to see, and it’s something I want to see as well.”
Although he played with the Edmonton Oilers for two seasons from 2014 to 2016, he retired from the league two years ago.
“Honestly, with the NHL guys always going, and they all are the superstars of NHL and I was obviously not one of them so I never thought I’d have an opportunity,” Klinkhammer said.
Here at home, some fans have expressed disappointment that they won’t get to see their heroes take the ice.
“The Olympics is supposed to be the best players in the world,” University of Alberta student Jayden Gorham told Metro recently. “I don’t think I’ll be as interested in it as I would be if the NHL players were a part of it.”
Klinkhammer says he gets it: “I understand the fans, that they would want to see Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby and all those other players playing and competing. Who wouldn’t want to see that you know?”
Still, he emphasizes the team—made up mostly of retired professionals or players from smaller leagues—remains committed to doing Canada proud.
“It’s going to be a lot of pressure obviously. It’s win or go home so obviously everyone is kind of firing on all cylinders,” he said.
So far the team has won two out of three preliminary games, including a 4-0 victory over South Korea on Sunday. On Wednesday morning they’ll face off against Finland in the quarter finals.
“It’s the only game we have to really concentrate on now,” he said. “If you lose that game then your tournament is over.”
When asked if the team has their hopes set on gold, Klinkhammer doesn’t even have to think.
"That’s what everyone here is playing for.”
Klinkhammer is joined by fellow Albertans Gilbert Brule and Ben Scrivens, who now also play in the KHL players, and Rene Bourque, who plays for the Swedish Hockey League.