Hockey gods replaced by hockey human beings on Canada's team for the Olympics

They might not be among the top 300 hockey players in Canada at the moment, but if you're more of a fan of a good story than a good wrist shot, this Olympic men's team might be the best one of all.

Hall of Fame hockey columnist Eric Duhatsek breaks down Canada's men's team

Canada's Rene Bourque, top, and Brandon Kozun try to score against Russian goalie Vasili Koshechkin during the Channel One Cup match in Moscow on Dec. 16, 2017. (Ivan Sekretarev/The Associated Press)

The last time Rene Bourque led the news, it was the Heritage Classic.

That was the February 2011 outdoor game played at McMahon Stadium, where Bourque stood tallest, scoring the winning goal and being named the second star in a game played on a frosty day before 41,000 fans.

Almost seven years later, after a pit stop in Montreal that lasted several years, followed by the usual slow fade of a career in places like Anaheim, Columbus and Colorado, Bourque found himself back in the Canadian news cycle Thursday, when it was announced that he'd been selected to play for Canada in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Former Calgary Flame Rene Bourque, the hero of the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium, was one of the players named to the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team on Thursday. (Hockey Canada/Canadian Press)

Top 300 Canadian players missing

According to Hall of Fame hockey columnist Eric Duhatschek, that's partly because the NHL — which employs, by his guesstimate, around 300 of the top Canadian hockey players — is skipping this year's Olympics.

But it's also because Bourque, a big, talented forward who took more NHL nights off than anyone thought he should, was determined to find a way to be named to the team … just like the other two dozen, a collection of journeymen, ex-NHLers, Spengler Cup stars, and up-and-comers who haven't quite arrived at their hockey destiny yet.

'What will it take for me to make the Olympics?'

"Rene Bourque's a great example [of the type of player who made the 2018 Olympic team]," Duhatschek said, in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener. "[He's] a guy who phoned [Men's Olympic hockey G.M.] Sean Burke last summer and asked, what will it take for me to make the Olympics? And Sean said, well, the first thing he said was, what you have to do is play. But if you find a team to play for, we will go watch you.

"So he went to [Djurgardens] Sweden," Duhatschek added. "The pay's not great there, but Sean told me, we went there, we watched him, he was the best player in every game we saw. Played hard. Big, strong physical guy.

"[He's] inconsistent at times," Duhatschek added. "There were times in the NHL when he scored a lot for two weeks, then for three weeks, you couldn't find him.

"But this guy is motivated, strictly to play for Canada in these Olympics," he said.

Eight Albertans 

Lac La Biche native Bourque will be joined on Team Canada by seven other Albertans, including Calgary's Brandon Kozun and Mat Robinson, as well as Ben Scrivens (Spruce Grove), Karl Stollery (Camrose), Gilbert Brule (Edmonton), Mason Raymond (Cochrane) and Rob Klinkhammer (Lethbridge).

While some names might be unfamiliar, Duhatschek says there is plenty of NHL-worthy talent on this team — maybe not 82 games a year, but the Olympics are a two-week long sprint, not an eight month long (plus two months of playoffs) extreme marathon.

"A lot of these players are not in NHL because they haven't been able to deliver the night-in, night-out consistency the NHL demands," he said,  "But every one of these guys is talented enough to give you two weeks. And I think that's what they're counting on."

Or, as Eyeopener host David Gray put it, "hockey gods replaced by hockey human beings."

Good stories for the casual sports fan

And for casual sports fans, who like a good story as much as they like to watch "best on best" competition, this Olympics has a chance to be a storytellers' delight.

"I covered the [1980] Miracle on Ice [at Lake Placid]," Duhatschek said. "That was unbelievable. Great story. The underdogs triumph."

After seeing American college players win gold at Lake Placid, he also witnessed Canada winning gold for the first time in 50 years, at Salt Lake City in 2002, and then again in Vancouver, in 2010, when people ran through the streets following Sid Crosby's so-called Golden Goal.

"If you're looking for a story," he said, "you have a better chance of getting a more interesting narrative this way."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener