The Best Player in Each 2014 Winter Olympic Hockey Nation's History

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IJanuary 12, 2014

The Best Player in Each 2014 Winter Olympic Hockey Nation's History

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    Who are the greatest all-time Olympic hockey players for each of the nations competing in the upcoming games in Sochi? Examining only their performances at the Winter Games (or the Summer Games, where hockey was first held in 1920), we can identify which single player made the most meaningful contributions overall on a country-by-country basis.

    Given the changes to the sport, the rules, and the skills of the various nations, one of the biggest challenges is comparing players from one era to those of another.

    And because the events are typically held four years apart, some great players never earned the right to more than one appearance, especially among those on the most dominant teams. That results in having to compare players with amazing single-tournament achievements to players with merely solid results spread out over several competitions.

    Though it is often a matter of opinion, some players nevertheless do bubble to the top.

    What follows is my take on who is the best Olympic player in each nation's history. We begin in alphabetical order with Austria on the next slide.

    All Olympic statistics sourced from Elite Prospects, unless otherwise noted.

Adelbert St. John, Austria

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1964, 1968

    Olympic Stats: 13 games, 9 goals, 7 assists, 16 points

    High-scoring forward Adelbert St. John was the greatest hockey player in Austrian history.

    St. John played until he was 47 years old, during which time "he represented the Austrian national team in 59 international matches adding up to a stunning 85 points (52 goals, 33 assists)," according to Elite Prospects.

    At age 33, St. John enjoyed the opportunity to represent his naturalized country at home in the 1964 Olympics at Innsbruck. He led the team with seven goals and 10 points in seven games, while no one else in the team scored more than three goals or four points.

    Four years later in Grenoble, despite being 10 years older than anyone else on the team, St. John again led the way in scoring with six points in five games.

    As either a player or a coach, St. John was a longtime fixture in Austrian hockey, both domestically and in international tournaments.

Harry "Moose" Watson, Canada

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Olympic Games: 1924 (gold)

    Olympic Stats: 5 games, 39 goals, 7 assists, 46 points

    Not to be confused with Harry "Whipper" Watson, who would come along years later, Harry "Moose" Watson was a huge but fast hockey player who put on the single most dominant display of hockey in the history of the Olympic Games.

    It was 1924, and the Canadian team was on its way to the second of seven straight medals, including six golds and one silver. Though the games were only 45 minutes long, Canada outscored its opponents 132 to three, and Watson led the way with 36 goals and an estimated seven assists.

    Since a different amateur team represented Canada at the Olympics each year, Watson and the Toronto Granites never had the opportunity to defend their title.

    Despite never going pro, Watson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963 and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998.

Vlastimil Bubnik, Czech Republic

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964 (bronze)

    Olympic Stats: 30 games, 20 goals, 13 assists, 33 points

    High-scoring right winger Vlastimil Bubnik began his Olympic career by losing a tiebreaking game with Sweden for the bronze medal in 1952, but he ended it as the captain of the bronze medal Czechoslovakian team of 1964.

    Bubnik competed in four Olympic tournaments in all, never finishing any lower than fifth. He scored 121 career goals in 127 games representing his country, including a remarkable 20 goals at the Olympics. You can count those who have scored more Olympic goals on a single hand.

    The IIHF Hall of Famer, who was often seen playing alongside frequent linemate Bronislav Danda, was a tremendous multi-sport athlete. He was stocky but incredibly fast with offensive creativity that made him unpredictable and dangerous.

Teemu Selanne, Finland

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1992, 1998 (bronze), 2002, 2006 (silver), 2010 (bronze), 2014

    Olympic Stats: 30 games, 20 goals, 17 assists, 37 points

    Arguably the greatest Olympic hockey player of all time, Teemu Selanne's selection as Finland's best should come as no surprise.

    Selanne's Olympic career got off to a bang in 1992 when he led the tournament with seven goals and finished with 11 points in eight games. Ineligible in 1994 (professionals were not yet allowed), Selanne led the tournament in scoring with 10 points in five games in his next appearance in 1998.

    The high point for Finland was in Turin in 2006, when the still-deadly Selanne was named the top forward and led the tournament once again with six goals and 11 points. Finland would lose to Sweden 3-2 in the final game, the closest the team has ever come to gold.

    Despite being 43 at the upcoming Olympic tournament, which will be his sixth, the Finnish Flash is still expected to use his incredible speed and accurate shooting to further pad his record-setting career totals.

Sergejs Naumovs, Latvia

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 2002, 2006, 2010

    Olympic Stats: 6 games, 4.42 GAA, .866 save percentage

    The greatest player in Latvian Olympic history was goalie Sergejs Naumovs. Not only did he play in all three Olympic Games (not counting 1936), but Naumovs helped Latvia qualify for them in the first place.

    In 2010, for instance, Naumovs came out of retirement to play two games in the qualification rounds, posting a 1.50 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Naumovs has played seven Olympic qualifying games in all. He was a big reason why Latvia has been in the last three tournaments.

    Though he didn't see any action in those 2010 Olympics, the then-41-year-old was added to the roster as the backup. Naumovs' prime was actually in the mid-1990s, when he was the star of Latvia's World Championship teams. He was also a star for the San Diego Gulls of the WCHL in the latter part of that decade.

    Naumovs was 32 at the time of Latvia's first Olympic berth in 2002, and he kept Latvia in the Games long enough for his team to threaten an upset. Naumovs is currently the goalie coach for Latvia's Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

Petter Thoresen, Norway

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994

    Olympic Stats: 29 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points (approximate)

    Right winger Petter Thoresen competed in all five Olympics from 1980 through 1994, which was the last time Norway qualified until 2010. He became the second player to participate in five Olympic hockey tournaments, a total exceeded only by Finland's Raimo Helminen.

    In all, Thoresen has played 96 games representing the Polar Bears (Norway's team nickname), including 29 games in the Olympics, which is fourth all-time. Though Norway hasn't had a great deal of success against the higher-powered hockey nations, it tied Team USA 3-3 back in 1984.

    Thoresen is currently the head coach of the Stavanger Oilers, and his son Patrick will be competing in his second Olympic Games this year in Sochi.

Valeri Kharlamov, Russia

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    Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1972 (gold), 1976 (gold), 1980 (silver)

    Olympic Stats: 18 games, 15 goals, 21 assists, 36 points

    One of the greatest players in hockey history is Valeri Kharlamov, whose talents were on full display at the Olympics from 1972 through 1980.

    An all-around gritty sniper, the high-scoring Kharlamov typically played on the famous Army Line with Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Kharlamov scored an amazing 16 points in the 1972 Olympics, a total that has not been matched since.

    Kharlamov still holds the record for the most career assists in the Olympics and only recently had his point totals finally bested by Finland's Teemu Selanne. He was a key mid-era member of the long-running Soviet dynasty, which earned medals every Olympics from 1956 until its final season in 1988, only twice failing to win gold.

    His life was tragically ended in a car accident at age 33. Kharlamov was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. His legacy is remembered in a variety of ways, including the Kharlamov Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's best Russian player, as voted by the league's Russian players.

Jozef "Ziletka" Golonka, Slovakia

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1960, 1964 (bronze), 1968 (silver)

    Olympic Stats: 22 games, 15 goals, 12 assists, 27 points

    Those who think that showboating and celebrations are more of a recent phenomenon may have forgotten Slovakia's favorite Olympian, Jozef "Ziletka" (Gillette razor) Golonka.

    During the very height of the Cold War, the colorful Golonka would goad his Soviet opponents and back it up with both his trademark aggression and his tremendous scoring. Twice Golonka would earn 10 points in a single Olympic tournament.

    The high point of Golonka's Olympic career was in 1968, when he captained the Czechoslovakian team to an upset 4-2 victory over the Soviet Union and ultimately a silver medal. Golonka was elected into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998.

Marcel Rodman, Slovenia

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 2014

    Olympic Stats: 9 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points (in qualification games)

    This being the first time Slovenia has ever qualified for the Olympics (not counting its five times as part of the Yugoslavian team between 1964 and 1984), its best player is the one who helped it get here, Marcel Rodman.

    The big 32-year-old forward was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2001 but has spent his career in Europe. He has played over 100 games representing the Slovenian team, which is known as Lynx, in international tournaments. That includes nine games in Slovenia's three Olympic qualifying tournaments, where he has scored points in each one.

    Rodman, whose younger brother David deserves recognition in his own right, is a tough and physical player and one of Slovenia's key veteran leaders.

Sven Tumba, Sweden

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1952 (bronze), 1956, 1960, 1964 (silver)

    Olympic Stats: 29 games, 25 goals, 7 assists (estimated), 32 points

    Few players can match the scoring totals of Sweden's Sven Tumba (Johansson), who was elected to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997. The big forward was a brilliant offensive player with a nose for the net.

    Tumba scored 186 goals in 245 games in international tournaments for the Swedish team, which is known as Tre Kronor (Three Crowns). This included 25 goals in 29 games over four Olympic tournaments from 1952 to 1964.

    The high point for Tumba was the 1964 Olympics, which the then-32-year-old led in scoring with 10 goals and 13 points on the way to helping Sweden capture the silver medal for only the second time in his nation's history.

Martin Gerber, Switzerland

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 2002, 2006

    Olympic Stats: 6 games, 2.83 goals-against average, .924 save percentage

    If you're going to select the best Olympic player in Switzerland's history, it's going to be a goalie (with apologies to defenseman Mark Streit). Among them there's no better selection than Martin Gerber, who famously posted a 49-shot shutout shocker over Canada in the 2006 Olympic Games.

    Gerber's Olympic achievements aren't limited to that single game. His .958 save percentage in the 2002 Games was the tournament's best, and his 1.33 goals-against average and .923 save percentage helped Switzerland qualify for the 2006 event in the first place.

    The quick veteran position-based goalie was also selected for Switzerland's 2010 team, but an injury prevented his participation. In all, Gerber has represented Switzerland in 10 international tournaments.

Herb Drury, USA

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Olympic Games: 1920 (silver), 1924 (silver)

    Olympic Stats: 8 games, 28 goals, 3 assists, 31 points

    The greatest player in America's Olympic history may have been born elsewhere, but he embraced his adopted country and proudly waved its flags throughout its first two competitions.

    Playing alongside his defensive partner Clarence Abel, the flashy and aggressive blueliner scored 22 goals in the 1924 Olympic tournament, the third-most ever in a single Olympic tournament.

    Together with the six goals he added in the inaugural event in 1920, in which the Americans also won silver, Herb Drury currently ranks second all-time among Olympic goal scorers.

    Drury would turn professional after earning that second medal and played six seasons in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Quakers.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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