When the 2014 Winter Olympic Games kick off in February, the Tampa Bay Lightning will send six players to represent their respective countries in the highly anticipated sport of Men’s Ice Hockey in Sochi, Russia. Leading the way is all-world center Steven Stamkos, who will suit up for Team Canada despite having missed the last two months of action with a broken leg. Many Lightning fans will collectively hold their breath when Stamkos returns to the ice not in Bolt blue, but in Canada red for their first game Feb. 13th. Tampa Bay and Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman must feel comfortable with his recovery having given him a spot on the roster. Still, you have to think Lightning fans would rather have a healthy #91 help the Bolts win a Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay than risk further setback to win a Gold Medal for Canada. Mysteriously absent from Team Canada is Tampa Bay Captain Martin St. Louis. Last year’s NHL scoring champion and 2004 MVP would seem to have been a logical addition to Yzerman’s roster with his play making ability and big game experience, especially on the larger Olympic ice surface. One could argue St. Louis deserves a spot on the roster ahead of Forwards Matt Duchene, Chris Kunitz, or Jeff Carter.
Representing Team Finland, Defenseman Sami Salo and red-hot FW Valtteri Filpulla join an always dangerous and competitive Finnish team who took bronze in Vancouver in 2010. This will be Sami Salo’s fourth trip to the Olympics having represented Finland for the first time in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Games.
Also making the trip to Sochi will be LW Ondre Palat and blueliner Radko Gudas who will take the ice for the Czech Republic. Playing along side veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias on the world stage should serve as invaluable experience for two of the Bolts up and coming young stars.
RW Richard Panik will need his passport as well, after being chosen to represent Team Slovakia, an under rated squad with proven NHLers such as Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa on the roster.
While St. Louis and early Vezina Trophy front-runner Ben Bishop sit at the top of the snub list, no omission is as glaring as 23-year-old Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. Team Sweden is always deep and talented, but it’s still hard to see how they could not find room on their roster for one of the best two-way defensive men in the NHL so far this year. One would think however, should any injuries occur leading up to the start of the Games… these 3 Bolts would be leading candidates to fill in any open spots.
Kevin Voyer/CW44 Tampa Bay