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Back to school, work looms for Olympic hockey players

STEPHEN WHYNO
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FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2018, file photo, Brian Gionta, left, of the United States, is checked by Tomas Starosta, of Slovakia, during the third period of the qualification round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. When the Olympics are over, hockey players are all going back to their day jobs, some more glamorous than others. Gionta’s trying to get back in the NHL. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Brian Gionta could go from facing Martin Erat in the Olympics to facing Filip Forsberg in the NHL.

Tony Granato will go back to coaching JD Greenway at Wisconsin after having brother Jordan play for him on the U.S. men's team. Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato will go back to their college teams in and around Boston after celebrating goals together on Olympic ice.

The end of the Olympics means players, coaches and everyone around the tournament return to their day jobs, some more glamorous than others. After putting their seasons on hold to focus on the Olympics, what's next for players varies drastically from the bright lights of the NHL to bus life in the minors to plane trips across Siberia.

For players who thrived on the big stage, the no-NHL Olympics was a blessing and one that will boost them moving forward.

"It definitely helped me as a player, my confidence, and knowing how I can play at this level," said forward Troy Terry, the youngest player on the U.S. team who is an Anaheim Ducks prospect playing at the University of Denver, last season's NCAA champion. "I'm just trying to keep this going, and I feel good as a player. I'm coming out of here with confidence and I'm just trying to bring that back to Denver and hopefully try and make another run at a national championship."

Granato's Wisconsin Badgers, Greenway's Boston University Terriers and Donato's Harvard Crimson will try to prevent that as the attention turns from South Korea to getting to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four.

Seventeen years removed from winning his national title at Boston College, Gionta said of an NHL return "we'll see what happens." He said he thinks he played well in South Korea and created scoring chances even though he had zero points and a minus-4 rating. The 39-year-old winger led the United States with 16 shots on goal.

Fellow captain Chris Kelly is in a similar role for Canada, and he and agent Pat Morris each said the 37-year-old forward is focused on the Olympics and not potentially signing a contract. Kelly, Gionta and U.S. defenseman James Wisniewski would have to sign before 3 p.m. Eastern on Monday to be playoff-eligible.

Kelly and Canada defenseman Maxim Noreau said they're in an Olympic bubble and trying not to worry about their NHL chances. Kelly has gotten the silent treatment from Morris on that topic — in a good way.

"I think he knows," Kelly said. "We've been together since I was I think 19 and he knows to leave me alone."

Some players have no interest in playing in the NHL — at least right now. Greenway, a Minnesota Wild prospect, said he's going back to college, and Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen is focused on the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs with Jokerit.

The KHL has the most players in this tournament with 92 and resumes play Monday, a day after the closing ceremony in South Korea. Canada forward Wojtek Wolski, who has 99 career regular-season NHL goals, has a KHL contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and doesn't mind going back to that life.

"I had a couple good years in Magnitogorsk," Wolski said. "I'm comfortable there. I'm happy there."

Donato is happy at Harvard, so much that his father, Ted, said it's hard to say when his son might make the leap to play for the Boston Bruins. Donato led the U.S. with five goals and certainly looks ready.

"There's so many factors involved with being NHL-ready," said Ted Donato, who played 12 NHL seasons and coaches Ryan at Harvard. "One certainly would be the opportunity presented yourself and the right timing."

The 21-year-old Donato credits Gionta and older players for his play and figures he'll take some more confidence back to school. The NHL is on his mind, but he doesn't know when.

"Obviously it's a dream," Donato said. "I grew up as a kid wanting to play in the NHL and especially for the Bruins, but at the end of the day I want to graduate as well. We'll see what the future holds."

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org