The 2014 Winter Olympics are nearly upon us. According to the official Sochi 2014 website, the men's ice hockey tournament will begin on Feb. 12.
In just over a week's time, Washington Capitals fans will be able to watch three of their own attempt to win gold for their respective countries in Russia:
- Alex Ovechkin, Russia
- Nicklas Backstrom, Sweden
- John Carlson, USA
But what about other Capitals who have played in the Olympics? How have they fared on international hockey's biggest stage?
To answer those questions, here is a ranking of the five greatest Olympians in Washington Capitals history, with one honorable mention.
The ranking consists of players who are best-known as members of the Washington Capitals and is based primarily on statistical production. Each player is listed with his position, country and cumulative statistics for the Olympic ice hockey tournament.
All statistics courtesy of QuantHockey.com unless noted otherwise.
Peter Bondra played for his home country of Slovakia at Nagano in 1998 and Turin in 2006. The scoring winger played well, especially in 2006, but did not well enough to be ranked among the five best Olympians in Washington Capitals history.
Instead, he receives an honorable mention. This is partly because of his production, but also because of one statistical output that you may find rather curious for a man who never accrued more than 80 in any of his 16 NHL seasons. The statistic in question is penalty minutes, a category in which Bondra easily out-gained all other members of this ranking.
Bondra racked up 25 of his 27 penalty minutes in one single game at the Nagano Olympics. Here is a recounting of that incident by The Washington Post, made even more memorable by the involvement of one of Bondra's Washington teammates:
With less than five minutes to go in the game, Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig, playing for Germany, was in net. Capitals right wing Peter Bondra, playing for Slovakia, was in front of the crease. So was German defenseman Erich Goldmann, who got into a cross-checking exchange with Bondra. Suddenly, a fight began, and Kolzig had to step between his NHL teammate and his national teammate. For a moment, it was unclear whom he was trying to protect.
"I didn't want Peter to get into that with my teammate, and I also didn't want him to leave the tournament that way," Kolzig said. "But he was frustrated. Slovakia finished far from where they expected. I talked to him Wednesday, and he was one unhappy guy."
Finally, Bondra receives an honorable mention as a means of recognizing his efforts at Vancouver 2010, where he was Slovakia's head coach. Bondra led Slovakia to a surprising fourth-place finish, ahead of more heavily favored teams such as Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Alexander Ovechkin will have immense pressure on him when he leads the host team onto the ice at Sochi for the Olympic hockey tournament. So far in his Olympic career, however, Ovechkin has lived up to expectations.
In Turin, Ovechkin scored five times with two power-play markers and one game-winning goal on 31 shots. Ovechkin also played for Russia at Vancouver 2010. In four games, Ovi scored two goals (one game-winner) and tallied two assists.
All told, Ovechkin has nine points in 12 games at the Olympics, or 0.75 points per game.
Like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom will be traveling to Sochi in short order with hopes of bringing home gold—albeit with slightly lower expectations.
Backstrom has half as many games played in the Olympics as his frequent linemate and team captain, having only played for the Tre Kronor at Vancouver 2010.
However, Backstrom has produced exactly twice as many points per game as Ovechkin. That includes tallying more than one assist per game.
Both feats are impressive. Just wait until Backstrom has more Olympic games under his belt.
Born in South Africa to German parents, Olaf Kolzig played for his ancestral home in two Olympics: Nagano 1998 and Turin 2006. Kolzig was unfortunate enough to play for a weak German side on both occasions, as they did not advance to the elimination round either time.
It certainly was not Kolzig's fault, though.
Godzilla's overall performance was stellar, but his play at Nagano was absolutely brilliant. He allowed only two goals on 56 shots in two games for a .966 save percentage, including one shutout. Kolzig was the winning goalie in both games. Again, Germany did not reach the elimination round.
Imagine if Germany had a stronger team. It could have rode Kolzig to gold, much like the Czech Republic rode Dominik Hasek to gold that same year.
All Washington Capitals fans know about the Miracle on Ice. And most Capitals fans know of one Dave Christian, who played in Washington from 1983-89 to account for six of his 13 NHL seasons.
However, very few Caps fans know that the Minnesota native was actually a member of the famed 1980 U.S. hockey team that shocked the world at Lake Placid.
Christian did not simply show up and win a medal. Despite not scoring a goal, he still averaged more than one assist per game. In fact, Christian led the US team in assists and finished second in the entire tournament in that category. Christian is still credited with the 16th-most assists in one Olympic tournament.
There is one more fact about Christian's performance at Lake Placid that makes it all the more remarkable. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, "Although he worked as a center in college, Christian was used exclusively on the blue line by coach Herb Brooks."
For playing an entire tournament at an unnatural position and still managing to lead his team in assists while only taking three minor penalties, Christian should have earned two gold medals.
Joe Juneau never played for Team Canada once he became a professional, even though he played in the NHL for seven seasons after the 1998 Olympics—the first such tournament to include full participation of NHL players.
However, Juneau did wear the maple leaf as an amateur, playing for Canada at Albertville in 1992. This Quebecois took full advantage of his one shot at Olympic glory.
Juneau led the entire Olympic tournament in points and assists, and was second in goals. His singular performance gives him the sixth-most assists in one Olympic tournament and 20th-most points in one Olympic tournament.
The experience was special to Juneau on a personal level as well, as he told Joe Pelletier of GreatestHockeyLegends.com:
I think the top would be the (1992) Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. We were all amateurs [on the Canadian men’s ice hockey team] and we managed to get a silver medal, and I was the high scorer in the tournament. It was great. I went to the Stanley Cup finals twice, and as much fun as it was, I didn’t think it was like the Olympics were.
That sentiment perfectly captures the emotion of playing in the Olympics.