The San Jose Sharks will have four players, representing three different countries, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Center Joe Thornton
was tabbed to represent Team Canada, Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov will help tend the nets for Team Russia and countrymen center Marcel Goc and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will skate for Team Germany.
The 2006 Winter Olympic Games will mark the sixth time Thornton has represented Canada internationally. He won a silver medal with Canada at the 2005 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Men’s World Championship in Austria where he was an alternate captain. Thornton led the tournament in scoring, was named Tournament MVP and to the 2005 World Championship All-Star Team. His 16 points (six goals, ten assists) in nine games rank him third all-time among Team Canada scorers in an individual World Championship Tournament.
“It’s exciting for me,” said Thornton. “It’s a dream to play for Team Canada. We have a great mix of younger and older players and it looks like a great team. Obviously there are a lot of good teams, but we always want to win the gold and this is no exception.”
Thornton has been a member of Team Canada’s gold-medal winning teams at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, 2001 IIHF Men’s World Championships, 1997 IIHF World Junior Championships and the Canadian Under-18 team at the 1996 Pacific Cup.
Nabokov’s selection to Team Russia closes the chapter on a long political process in the Sharks goalie’s past that dates back to 1994. Born in Ust-Kamenogorsk in the Kazakhstan republic of the former Soviet Union, Nabokov had previously been ruled ineligible to play for Team Russia because as an 18-year old, he represented Kazakhstan at the 1994 C-pool World Championships.
Old IIHF rules stated that once a player represented one country after his 18th birthday, he could not subsequently represent another. As a result, Nabokov was ineligible to play for Team Russia at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, despite being named to the squad.
Although those rules were modified in 2003 to allow more flexibility, Nabokov still found himself caught in a quandary.
The new IIHF rules allow a player to change his designation but only if the said player had played four consecutive seasons in the national league of the their new homeland (in this case, the Russian Elite League).
Upon leaving his Kazakhstan club, Nabokov played for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Elite League for just three seasons, before signing his first contract with the Sharks and heading to North America, thus leaving him one year short.
However, in July 2004, IIHF officials took several factors into consideration when considering Nabokov’s appeal of the rule, not the least being the political circumstances that affected the entire region during the years in question and summarily granted the Sharks netminder permission to represent Russia moving forward.
“We took a flexible attitude towards the request of the player and the Russian Federation to switch the player’s national eligibility,” IIHF General Secretary Jan-Ake Edvinsson said. “It became very clear that Mr. Nabokov was the victim of historic circumstances which were totally out of his control and that it would be unfair to him not to approve the request.”
The Winter Olympics will mark Nabokov’s first high-level international experience. Following the IIHF hearing, he was selected to play for Team Russia at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, but was unable to participate due to his rehabilitation from a small knee surgery.
“The last time I represented Russia was with the CCCP in 1991 or 1992 when we played in Canada and then Lake Placid,” Nabokov said. “When the (country) broke up, I played two or three games for Kazakhstan. Now I haven’t played internationally in 12 years.”
Due to that absence from international play, and the opportunity to represent Russia as its own country for the first time, Nabokov is more than ready for Turin.
“I’m really excited to go play in the Olympics,” he said.
As for Russia’s chances of bringing home the gold, “Nabby” thinks they have the talent.
“We have some young legs and they will be hungry,” Nabokov said. “There are so many great teams, that it comes to who works the hardest and wants it more. We have the character and leadership. It’s not an 80-game season. It’s a six- or eight-game tournament.”
Goc and Ehrhoff come to this round of International play as “seasoned veterans.”
Goc competed with Team Germany at the 2001, 2003 and 2005 World Championships and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Goc, who was just 15 years old when he started his international career, played on his first of three successive German teams at the Under-20 World Junior Championships (B-Pool) in 1999. His other international experience includes competing at the Under-18 World Junior Championships in 2000 and the Under-20 World Junior Championship (A-Pool) in 2002.
Ehrhoff appeared with Team Germany in the 2002, 2003 and 2005 World Championships, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2002 Olympic Games. He began his international career in 1999 as he competed in his first of two Under-18 World Junior Championships. Ehrhoff also played in two Under-20 World Championships in the B-pool for Germany.
Goc and Ehrhoff know Team Germany will have to battle to remain in the IIHF’s “A” bracket as one of the world’s top eight hockey teams.
“There are a couple of teams fighting for the eighth spot,” said Ehrhoff. “It would be a big surprise for us to win a quarterfinal game with all the NHL players. The experience at the last Olympics was the best of my life and I’m looking forward to this one.”
Salt Lake City doesn’t hold the same memories for Marcel Goc.
“I was at the last Olympics and was sent home the day before it started,” said Goc. “At the same time, my team back in Germany changed, so I was disappointed.”
Also named to the German team was Sharks prospect Thomas Greiss
, selected in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Greiss is in his second full season with Kolner Haie in the German Elite League and will back-up Washington Capitals netminder Olaf Kolzig.