The Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament has begun, and while there aren’t any current NHL players, the Leafs have an interest in four players taking part. One or more of them could, in theory, play for the Leafs later this season.

  1. Josh Ho-Sang, currently on the Marlies on an AHL contract, has skated on Team Canada’s top line in practice in Beijing. Ho-Sang might get an NHL contract after the Olympics are over if the Leafs have the cap space to keep him on the roster. He would need to be signed by the trade deadline, however, to be eligible for the playoffs.
  2. Matt Knies, currently playing in the NCAA is playing LW for Team USA. He turns 20 this October, and would be eligible to play in the AHL next season. Because he is on the reserve list of the team as a drafted prospect, he could be signed at any time and join the Maple Leafs or Marlies.  Knies is also only in his first year in the NCAA, so he may well be interested in staying in school for much longer than one year.
  3. Nick Abruzzese, also playing LW for the USA in practice, and one line higher than Knies, is the captain of the Harvard Crimson. He has three years of hockey experience in the NCAA, but he missed all of last year, so he’s been in school for four years. He could also be signed by the Leafs at any time, but he is eligible to do another year of hockey in college. The NCAA playoffs run through early April.
  4. Pontus Holmberg, is a member of Team Sweden, but likely won’t see a very large role due to the strength of the players ahead of him. His SHL team is in a playoff spot now with about 20 games to play, but they aren’t lighting it up this year. His playoffs begin at the end of March, but he could join the Marlies this season, as he’s already on an NHL deal.

Format and Broadcast

All Olympic events are televised with full DVR replay capability on CBC Gem. Some are on Prime Video, and CBC is broadcasting events on television. Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Toronto, so the hockey games begin either at 11 pm, 3:30 am or 8 am.

For this tournament, the Olympics website is very good, with schedules, rosters and live updating game sheets for all hockey games:

The Men’s tournament contains 12 teams, split into three groups of four teams for the preliminary round. Each team plays three times, and conveniently for Leafs fans, Canada and USA are in the same group. The preliminary round does not eliminate anyone, however; its entire purpose is to re-seed the teams by the results within the group, points, goal differential etc.

Once the new one through 12 ranking has been set, the top four teams move directly into the quarterfinals. The remaining eight teams play off to eliminate four teams and populate the rest of the quarterfinals with the winners. The rest of the tournament is structured how you’d expect.

Joining Canada and USA in Group A is Germany and the host, China. China’s women’s team acquitted themselves very well and didn’t look out of place in their group. They were also full of players who had Chinese residency because they’d played on KRS Vanke Rays for years. The  Men’s team is made up entirely of KRS club players as well, and a first look at the official roster will lead you to think they are all Chinese, but there are many import players, and for this event, they have been given Chinese names or nearly Chinese names. Ruian Sipulaoer is Ryan Sproul, Jieke Kailiaosi is Jake Chelios and Jieruimi Shimisi is Jeremy Smith.

Regardless of the elastic qualifications for China’s team, they are unlikely to match the women’s performance. To really see Ho-Sang or Knies and Abruzzese in a close game, it’s likely best to watch them play each other or Germany.

Their schedule is:

  • USA vs China and Canada vs Germany on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 8 am
  • Canada vs USA on Friday, Feb. 11 at 11 pm
  • China vs Canada and USA vs Germany on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 8 am/

Sweden is in Group C with Finland, Slovakia and Latvia. Sweden’s games are:

  • Sweden vs Latvia on Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 11 pm
  • Sweden vs Slovakia on Friday, Feb. 11 at 3:30 am
  • Sweden vs Finland on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 3:30 am/

Unless there is a very strange set of tied results, only one of Canada and the USA will get the bye into the quarterfinals, so one of them will be in the qualification play-off.

Given the variable strength of the teams this year — Russia and Finland are likely the top two — it’s a very hard tournament to predict. One or both of the North American teams could be in medal contention, or they might be out before the semifinals. But for the prospects, this event is about proving something to themselves and to the Leafs.

For Knies and Abruzzese, particularly, this is a chance to get out of the NCAA and junior bubble and show us what they have.