Canada picks Chris Kelly to captain Olympic men's hockey team

37-year-old has played in 92 NHL playoff games, winning a Game 7 Stanley Cup final

Canada picks Chris Kelly to captain Olympic men's hockey team
Chris Kelly played more than 800 games in the NHL with Ottawa and Boston, and won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. © Hockey Canada/The Canadian Press

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

On a team full of veteran journeymen, Canadian men's Olympic hockey head coach Willie Desjardins and his staff had plenty of worthy options in choosing a captain.

There is 37-year-old defenceman Chris Lee, who has scratched out a wonderful pro career in Europe despite playing only division III hockey in the U.S. college ranks.

Derek Roy won a Memorial Cup and has played for Canada three times: once in the 2003 world juniors and two more times at the 2008 and 2009 world championships.

Defenceman Maxim Noreau captained Canada to the Spengler Cup win six weeks ago, and Andrew Ebbett has a calm, respectful demeanour and a personality that oozes leadership.

But Desjardins selected 37-year-old Chris Kelly, the only player on the 25-player Canadian roster to have a Stanley Cup ring.

No stranger to pressure-packed games

Kelly has faced the massive pressure of a Game 7 in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup final and came out on top with the Boston Bruins. He also has been to the Stanley Cup final on two other occasions, with the Ottawa Senators in 2007 and with the Bruins a second time in 2013.

He has played in 92 NHL playoff games and that experience will pay dividends with the Canadians.

"You should be able to learn from all your experiences," said Kelly, a captain for three seasons with the AHL Binghamton Senators and captain for Canada's two exhibition games against Latvia and Belarus earlier this week.

"I've played in some big games, some Game 7s and, of course, in a winner-take-all Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final.

"This is a different situation. After the preliminary round, every game is a Game 7. We want to play in three of them."

Hungry for gold

Three playoff games would push Canada into the Olympic gold-medal final in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 25.

Unlike the last bunch to represent Canada in the 2014 men's Olympic hockey tournament, when there were 11 Stanley Cup champions on the roster, this group has a substantially fewer collection of significant titles. But this collection of thoughtful, respectful and excited professionals is just as hungry.

Players like Lee, Roy, Ebbett, Noreau and Rene Bourque, who have been summoned to join Kelly on Canada's leadership group, have been champing at the bit to play in the Olympics ever since commissioner Gary Bettman scrapped the idea of NHLers participating in a sixth Olympic Winter Games.

Kelly was a different story. The Olympics weren't on his radar at all last fall. He went to the Edmonton Oilers, where his old Bruins boss and current Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli was running the show.

Kelly, a smart checking centre, excellent face-off man and penalty killer extraordinaire, hoped to extend his NHL career to a 13th season. But after an extended stay on a player's tryout to mid-November, Kelly returned home to his Ottawa neighbourhood of Barrhaven to be with his wife and three children.

The plan was simple. He would continue to work out and practice with the Carleton University varsity team until the end of November and then make a decision on whether or not to call it a career.

Veteran in high demand

All of a sudden, Randy Lee called. The Belleville Senators GM felt Kelly would be a positive dressing-room influence with his young AHL team.

Then came a call from Canadian Olympic GM Sean Burke. He wanted Kelly to play for Canada at the 2017 Spengler Cup.

It was then Kelly began thinking about playing in the Olympics. He certainly helped his cause when he played an important role in Canada's dominant four-game run to the crown in Davos, Switzerland in late December.

"I'm really thankful for the opportunity given to me by Belleville," Kelly said. "If I didn't get back playing I don't get this opportunity to play in the Olympics."

When Kelly was named to the Canadian Olympic team on Jan. 11. His mobile phone kept ringing and dinging with congratulatory calls, voicemails, and text messages.

When you've been in the game as long as Kelly and have been a popular teammate, people are happy for you.

"I heard from Jason Spezza," Kelly said of his former Ottawa and Binghamton teammate. "He was truly thrilled for me. It was almost like he made the team."

He also heard from his former Bruins teammate Brad Marchand, who was jealous because had the NHLers been able to go to Pyeongchang, Marchand would have been playing for Canada.

"It was a frustrating decision for some of the guys I know who usually represent their country at the Olympics not to be able to go this time," Kelly said. "I've never had an opportunity like this.  "With this team, we're all coming from different leagues, different cities. But the common bond is we're Canadian and we're expected to win. It's an exciting situation to be in."