The odometer on his hockey career would indicate that Chris Kelly has
traveled further and more abroad than most.
His sojourn in the game has taken him from his hometown of Toronto to the
American Hockey League and National Hockey League, and even a brief stint
in Europe with HC Red Ice of the Swiss National League during the most
recent NHL lockout in 2012.
At 37, he’s enjoyed tenure in the game that most Canadians only read about
or wish they had lived through childhood dreams.
As he inches closer to his 40s, though, he has entered into
uncharted territory, in a place he never imagined playing hockey, on a team
he only fantasized about making.
“I never thought I would represent Canada at the Olympics,” says Kelly,
captain of Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team. “When the NHL players were going it
was a very select few. The Olympics had never been in my mind.”
That was until this season, a distinctive year in international hockey
where NHL players will not participate as Olympians for the first time
As a result of that decision, the opportunity presented itself for
Canadians playing in Europe or those signed exclusively to minor
professional contracts in North America to take their place.
Kelly fell into the latter category.
After finishing last season with the Ottawa Senators, where he played all
82 games and two more in playoffs, his one-year contract expired.
The only plausible option for him to continue in the game was to take a
professional tryout (PTO) with the Belleville Senators of the American
Hockey League, Ottawa’s top affiliate.
He simply wanted to stay in the game. The Olympic opportunity was only
happenstance, not a destination when he returned to the AHL for the first
time in over a decade.
But when the NHL declined its involvement in PyeongChang and by extension
its membership’s participation, players like Kelly realized an opening and
“It was the way it worked out,” he says. “It’s been a unique year in terms
of not really knowing what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s truly been a
period of living day to day.”
Throughout his stellar career, which includes a Stanley Cup with the Boston
Bruins in 2011 and over 1,000 professional games on his past performance
sheet, there was one distinction that had eluded Kelly until this season.
Prior to earning one of the 25 spots on Team Canada in January, he had
never represented his country at any international competition.
That changed when he was invited to play for Canada at the Spengler Cup in
late December. It was a move that proved productive for both player and
team as Canada won the tournament for the third-consecutive year.
For Kelly, it was an extended audition to earn a spot on the Olympic team,
something he knew could be a possibility going into the tournament, but not
“It’s in the back of your mind,” he recalls. “And if you have a good
showing it was a possibility that you could make the Olympic team.”
In addition to the Spengler Cup, Team Canada management was also able to
select its team via a collection of tournaments – the Sochi Hockey Open and
Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August, Karjala Cup in November and
Channel One Cup in early December.
It was a process that appears to have provided a great gathering of non-NHL
talent and one that might demonstrate to be very fruitful for Canada on the
podium this month.
"When we go to the Olympics, this team will make Canada proud," says
general manager Sean Burke.
As Canada’s elder statesman with 833 NHL games to his credit, Kelly becomes
one of three players on Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team to earn a spot via an
American Hockey League contract, joining Stockton blue-liner Cody Goloubef
and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Christian Thomas.
“It’s been a real fun season thus far,” he says. “For sure it’s a different
situation, but a good one.”
Aside from being a former 20-goal scorer in the NHL, Kelly will be
entrusted to provide solid defensive play, a penalty kill role and
leadership for a Canadian group devoid of star power.
That last item in-and-of-itself should offer a layer of experience in the
Canadian dressing room of unquantifiable worth. It’s a major reason why he
was named captain of Team Canada leading up to its first Olympic contest.
“We are fortunate that this team is full of leaders,” says Canadian head
coach Willie Desjardins. “I think that reflects very well on the type of
people that hockey produces. This leadership group will set the pace….and
embrace the tremendous opportunity to represent Canada and Canada’s game on
the world stage at PyeongChang.”
And when you represent a nation that considers anything but a gold medal a
disappointment, mentorship from a former Stanley Cup champion and a 17-year
professional like Kelly is invaluable.
“No matter how long you’ve played, you’re pretty happy when your country
chooses you to play for them in the Olympics,” he says.
Entering this season Kelly never imagined his career would continue with a
trip to South Korea to play hockey as an Olympian.
But his path in the game will take him there and thus keep the career
odometer ticking, perhaps with a gold reward at the end of it.