chris kelly feature

An unexpected journey

A Stanley Cup champion and veteran of more than 800 NHL games, Chris Kelly will add an international chapter to his hockey story in PyeongChang

Paul Edmonds
February 18, 2018

The odometer on his hockey career would indicate that Chris Kelly has traveled further and more abroad than most.

His sojourn in the game has taken him from his hometown of Toronto to the American Hockey League and National Hockey League, and even a brief stint in Europe with HC Red Ice of the Swiss National League during the most recent NHL lockout in 2012.

At 37, he’s enjoyed tenure in the game that most Canadians only read about or wish they had lived through childhood dreams.

As he inches closer to his 40s, though, he has entered into uncharted territory, in a place he never imagined playing hockey, on a team he only fantasized about making.

“I never thought I would represent Canada at the Olympics,” says Kelly, captain of Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team. “When the NHL players were going it was a very select few. The Olympics had never been in my mind.”

That was until this season, a distinctive year in international hockey where NHL players will not participate as Olympians for the first time since 1998.

As a result of that decision, the opportunity presented itself for Canadians playing in Europe or those signed exclusively to minor professional contracts in North America to take their place.

Kelly fell into the latter category.

After finishing last season with the Ottawa Senators, where he played all 82 games and two more in playoffs, his one-year contract expired.

The only plausible option for him to continue in the game was to take a professional tryout (PTO) with the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League, Ottawa’s top affiliate.

He simply wanted to stay in the game. The Olympic opportunity was only happenstance, not a destination when he returned to the AHL for the first time in over a decade.

But when the NHL declined its involvement in PyeongChang and by extension its membership’s participation, players like Kelly realized an opening and seized it.

“It was the way it worked out,” he says. “It’s been a unique year in terms of not really knowing what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s truly been a period of living day to day.”

Throughout his stellar career, which includes a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and over 1,000 professional games on his past performance sheet, there was one distinction that had eluded Kelly until this season.

Prior to earning one of the 25 spots on Team Canada in January, he had never represented his country at any international competition.

That changed when he was invited to play for Canada at the Spengler Cup in late December. It was a move that proved productive for both player and team as Canada won the tournament for the third-consecutive year.

For Kelly, it was an extended audition to earn a spot on the Olympic team, something he knew could be a possibility going into the tournament, but not a guarantee.

“It’s in the back of your mind,” he recalls. “And if you have a good showing it was a possibility that you could make the Olympic team.”

In addition to the Spengler Cup, Team Canada management was also able to select its team via a collection of tournaments – the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August, Karjala Cup in November and Channel One Cup in early December.

It was a process that appears to have provided a great gathering of non-NHL talent and one that might demonstrate to be very fruitful for Canada on the podium this month.

"When we go to the Olympics, this team will make Canada proud," says general manager Sean Burke.

As Canada’s elder statesman with 833 NHL games to his credit, Kelly becomes one of three players on Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team to earn a spot via an American Hockey League contract, joining Stockton blue-liner Cody Goloubef and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Christian Thomas.

“It’s been a real fun season thus far,” he says. “For sure it’s a different situation, but a good one.”

Aside from being a former 20-goal scorer in the NHL, Kelly will be entrusted to provide solid defensive play, a penalty kill role and leadership for a Canadian group devoid of star power.

That last item in-and-of-itself should offer a layer of experience in the Canadian dressing room of unquantifiable worth. It’s a major reason why he was named captain of Team Canada leading up to its first Olympic contest.

“We are fortunate that this team is full of leaders,” says Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins. “I think that reflects very well on the type of people that hockey produces. This leadership group will set the pace….and embrace the tremendous opportunity to represent Canada and Canada’s game on the world stage at PyeongChang.”

And when you represent a nation that considers anything but a gold medal a disappointment, mentorship from a former Stanley Cup champion and a 17-year professional like Kelly is invaluable.

“No matter how long you’ve played, you’re pretty happy when your country chooses you to play for them in the Olympics,” he says.

Entering this season Kelly never imagined his career would continue with a trip to South Korea to play hockey as an Olympian.

But his path in the game will take him there and thus keep the career odometer ticking, perhaps with a gold reward at the end of it.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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