Significance of unexpected Olympic opportunity not lost on Canada's men's hockey team
'I didn't think this was even an opportunity that was going to be there' says Landon Ferraro
Landon Ferraro originally intended on following the path blazed by his father Ray and enjoying a long, successful career in the National Hockey League just like his old man.
Like for so many of us, the game plan in Landon's head failed to pan out. A rash of lower-body injuries limited the 2009 second-round (32nd overall) draft pick to just 77 career NHL appearances with Detroit, Boston and Minnesota.
Now playing in Cologne, Germany, Landon had given up on his childhood dream of playing for Canada at the Olympics. But at age 30, he's on the verge of doing just that as a member of Team Canada at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
One door closes, another opens.
Life carries on.
"I didn't think this was even an opportunity that was going to be there," said Ferraro, who was born in Trail, B.C., but got his start playing hockey in Atlanta where his dad suited up for the Thrashers. "It's going to mean so much.
"I've had a ton of injuries, and I didn't know if I'd be able to keep playing anymore. I kind of put in all the work and saw all the doctors and got everything figured out to where the body feels pretty good."
WATCH | Getting to know Canada's Olympic men's ice hockey team:
'Special' feeling to compete in Olympics for Canada
Canadian hockey fans expected to see a best-on-best tournament at these Olympics featuring Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Alex Pietrangelo and Nathan MacKinnon. With the NHL pulling out due to game cancellations caused by COVID-19, the 25 players named to the Canadian men's Olympic team are savouring every moment of what many consider "Plan B."
This group lacks star power — outside of captain Eric Staal — but they are elite hockey players in their own right and pledge to do their country proud when the puck drops Thursday in preliminary-round action between Canada and Germany.
"Representing Canada, I mean, it's every kid's dream," said right winger Josh Ho-Sang, who plays for the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. "They think about it when they're playing in the driveway and think about scoring the game-winning goal.
At age 20, goalie Devon Levi can't quite believe he's in Beijing as a member of Team Canada.
"Just this whole thing, this whole experience, is crazy," said Levi, a top goaltending prospect of the Buffalo Sabres who plays for Boston's Northeastern University. "I'm super grateful to be here. And it's been a dream just watching the Olympics every year. I looked up to these guys and watched some of the guys on the team now when I was a kid.
"Being able to play with them now is unbelievable."
Choice to put off retirement pays off for Desharnais
David Desharnais is one of the guys Levi watched on TV as a kid growing up in Dollard-Des Ormeaux, Que. Undersized at 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, the undrafted Desharnais turned an invitation to the Montreal Canadiens development camp into a 524-game NHL career.
At 35, Desharnais considered retiring last summer after two seasons with Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss 'A' League. But the Laurier-Station, Que., product opted to stay on, and he continues to contribute with 13 goals and 32 points in 38 games.
In Beijing, Desharnais is one of the veterans tasked with chipping in offensively for Team Canada.
"My whole career, it's been about perseverance," Desharnais says. "It's just another chapter if I can say that. If I would have quit last year, I wouldn't have had the opportunity."
Desharnais understands the magnitude of the opportunity, especially given that NHL superstars like Steven Stamkos will likely never represent Canada on the Olympic stage.
"It's unfortunate the NHL guys can't go," Desharnais says. "But it gives other guys the chance.
"And here I am."
Potential bragging rights for Ferraro
Over the next 10 days or so, father and son will talk hockey from opposite sides of the world as Landon gets set for what will undoubtedly be a career highlight.
"It's just something that's brought me and my dad closer and closer," Landon said. "Any question I've had, he's always been able to answer and kind of give me some insight. Goes off the rails a little bit if it gets onto the PK or blocking shots.
"He avoided that at all costs."
After opening the tournament at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday against Germany, Canada is scheduled to face the U.S. at 11:10 p.m. ET Friday before closing out round-robin play in Group A against China at 8:10 a.m. Sunday.
The gold-medal game is slated for 11:10 p.m. ET on Feb 19 at the National Indoor Stadium.
WATCH | CBC Sports Explains: Men's Olympic ice hockey: