No NHL players? No problem.
They were lined up from Tofino to St. John’s to take the 25 available spots
on Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team set to compete for a gold medal in
And those that were asked to represent the country in the absence of the
National Hockey League players that had filled Olympic team rosters since
1998 couldn’t be more elated with the way it has unfolded.
After all, regardless of level or résumé, the expectation remains the same
for Hockey Canada, the nation and for those representing the country at the
2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“We want to win gold,” says Canadian forward Gilbert Brulé. “That’s the
only thing we’re trying to accomplish here – nothing less.”
The 31-year-old is part of an interesting cast of characters that forms the
Canadian contingent. His 600+ professional games with 13 different teams in
Europe and North America (tied with Andrew Ebbett for most pro stops on the
Canadian roster) is one of two common themes among the group, as most are
well-groomed pros with a wealth of hockey experience.
The other is that if NHL participation had continued in the Olympics, it’s
very likely none of the current players on the Canadian roster would be
“With the NHL not going it opened a door of opportunity,” Brulé
acknowledges. “Just the chance to tryout for your country is whole other
level of excitement. I can’t wait to represent our country.”
Through a process that involved five tournaments from the Sochi Hockey Open
in mid-August to the Spengler Cup in late December (which Canada won for
the third year in a row), Team Canada management was able to select its
Currently plying his trade with Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey
League (KHL) and a veteran of four KHL seasons, Brulé used evaluation
opportunities in Sochi and at the Karjala Cup in November to secure his
“A lot like other Canadians, they've managed to battle it and fight back,"
Team Canada head coach Willie Desjardins told the Associated Press. "That's
what our team is about. It's about guys who have received a no, but found a
way to make a yes."
Brulé is certainly one of those, even though he had twice previously worn
the Maple Leaf in international competition.
In early 2004, he was part of Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey
Challenge, winning silver, before suiting up for Canada’s National Men’s
Summer Under-18 Team at the U18 Junior World Cup, where he scored the
game-winning goal in the gold medal game.
Additionally, Brulé was invited to selection camp ahead of the 2006 IIHF
World Junior Championship.
With the tournament close to home in Vancouver, the offer was tempting, but
since he was beginning his NHL career with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the
team that selected him sixth overall in the 2005 NHL draft, he ultimately
From there, the former CHL Scholastic Player of the Year (2004-05) would
play nearly 300 games in the NHL with Columbus, Edmonton and Phoenix, along
with AHL stops in Syracuse, Springfield, Oklahoma City and Portland, as
well as a quick trip to Switzerland to play 14 games with the ZSC Lions in
In 2014 – after a brief retirement – he accepted an offer to play with
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in the KHL in order to continue his career and
provide a fresh outlook on the game.
Obviously, that decision today has proved to be more valuable than anything
he could have predicted when he departed for Russia. When the NHL decided
not to participate in the Olympics, players like Brulé were positioned
perfected to fill the void.
“I’m proud to be part of this group and pleased they chose me,” he says.
“To get the call was just an amazing thing to happen. I’m so lucky.”
Brulé’s experience isn’t lost on a Canadian team that quickly needed to
come together in South Korea. This is especially important in order to
deliver another gold medal to a nation that perpetually expects nothing
less from its hockey players regardless of the name on the back of the
It’s an environment Brulé maintains he is comfortable with based on his
experience in the game and his age. As an offensive, play-making forward
with a keen understanding of defensive responsibilities, he provides Team
Canada with a balanced package of skill and reliability.
“With all of the things I’ve gone through in the past and present in my
career, it’s prepared me for something like this,” he says. “I’ve
experienced the pressure of playing in front of big crowds and playing for
something special. I’m becoming a veteran now and used to playing in that
type of situation.”
What Brulé will also bring is speed, grit and energy. Those are elements of
his game that have always served him well at any level and will be
especially useful on international-sized ice at the Olympics.
“Obviously playing on the big ice helps a lot,” he says. “There’s a lot of
skating involved and it’s more of a puck possession game. I’m used to
playing that kind of system and style of game. I actually like it quite a
By their own admission, the idea of being an Olympian is still a little
astonishing for players like Brulé. The reality is it likely won’t truly
sink in until the Games begin.
In fact, most of his Canadian teammates were likely planning on watching
Team Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games on television, not playing for
But they are, and Brulé cautions against anyone that underestimates his
team’s talent, passion and commitment to providing Canada with a fourth
men’s hockey gold in five tries.
“We have a mix of everything,” he says. “It’s a really good group of solid
hockey players. We have a lot of skill and are a determined team.
“I understand there’s not a lot of time to pull this thing together, but
Canada is not alone.”
No NHL players? No problem.