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Ex-NHL veteran Brian Gionta named captain of Team USA hockey for Winter Olympics

NEW YORK — Although the National Hockey League prohibited its players from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament, a number of familiar NHL names were announced for Team USA at the Winter Classic at Citi Field on Monday.

Former Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres winger Brian Gionta, a 2006 U.S. Olympian, was named the team’s captain. Many of his former NHL teammates were not allowed to appear on Olympic rosters after a financial dispute between the league and the International Olympic Committee resulted in an announcement in April that the NHL would not send players to the Winter Games for the first time since 1998.

“The decision was made by the NHL and the NHL execs, and from there, everyone adjusts,” Gionta told ESPN. “It’s unfortunate that those players are not [playing in the Olympics], but it opens up the opportunity for players that never had a chance to participate in them.”

Instead of current NHL players, Team USA is composed of players competing in international leagues, on minor league contracts or in the NCAA. They’re coached by former NHL player Tony Granato.

“It’s a great day for hockey,” Granato said. “Obviously from a selection process it’s been a battle for us on all the players we have available to us. We’re real happy with the players that we announced today. I think we’ve put together an outstanding group of that will represent us well come February and give us a great chance to do really well and compete for a medal.”

Among the NHL alumni Gionta joins on Team USA are forwards Mark Arcobello, Jim Slater, Chris Bourque and Bobby Sanguinetti as well as defensemen James Wisniewski and Matt Gilroy. They join NCAA talents like Troy Terry of the University of Denver and Jordan Greenway, a forward from Boston University who becomes the first African-American player to appear on a men’s or women’s Olympic roster.

“It’s special. There’s not a ton of African-Americans who play this game. It gives me the opportunity to influence kids who are my skin color to try different things,” Greenway told ESPN.

The Team USA roster also had a surprise in goal, in that there was only one goalie named to it: Ryan Zapolski, who is currently playing with Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. “We’ll name a couple in the next couple of weeks as we move forward,” Granato said. “But it was a decision made that we would wait a little bit to name the last two goalies to our roster. We’ll have two more named in the near future.”

The U.S. women’s Olympic team has medaled in all five Olympic Winter Games since women’s ice hockey was introduced in 1998. This roster features six two-time Olympians (2010, 2014) in Kacey Bellamy, captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Gigi Marvin — players who finished with the silver medal after championship losses to Canada. Overall, there are 10 returning Olympians.

But the biggest news was the confirmation that two standouts from the Sochi Olympic team — defender Megan Bozek and forward Alex Carpenter, considered one of the most talented offensive players in international women’s hockey — were left off the roster.

“It’s never easy to let veterans go,” said coach Robb Stauber. “They’re just a big part of the program, but at the end of the day, we have to go to South Korea with what we feel most comfortable with, and that’s a very difficult decision, just having conversations with those players and letting them know that this time around their dream isn’t going to be likely.”

Said forward Brianna Decker, “I think the biggest thing is that it’s out of our players’ control. It’s tough. They’re both skilled players, but we have the right group right now. It’s a disappointment, in the sense that they’ve been with the program for a long time. But we move forward.”

The U.S. women open Olympic play on Feb. 11 against Finland. The opening game for the U.S. men is set for Feb. 14 against Slovenia.

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