The Denver Post Mike Chambers column

2018-02-11 | Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, Calif.)

Feb. 10--The very reason Dominic Toninato refused to sign with Toronto is why the Minnesota native is not eligible to play for Team USA at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The Leafs only offered Toninato an American Hockey League contract last summer, so he chose to play the "college card" and become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 16.

Toninato, a four-year Minnesota-Duluth standout who served as team captain last season as a senior, eventually signed his NHL entry-level contract with the Avalanche, a move that eliminated his Olympic eligibility. At the time, Toninato wasn't thinking ahead to the Olympics. He was all about playing in the NHL.

"Didn't even cross my mind," he said of the Olympics. "I'm happy with the situation I'm in. I couldn't ask to be on a better team and I'm very happy with the opportunity I've been given. I like where I'm at."

For the first time since 1994, active NHL players aren't participating in the Winter Olympics. Only European professionals and those on North American minor-league contracts, as well as amateurs like University of Denver junior Troy Terry of Highlands Ranch, are eligible. Toninato, who opposed Terry and the Pioneers in the 2017 NCAA championship game in Chicago, turned down that opportunity, although there was no guarantee he would have been selected by USA Hockey.

"It's definitely a dream of mine to play in the Olympics. I think that's any kid's dream," said Toninato, 23. "It's the world's stage....but I guess I didn't even think about it last summer. Definitely would have been an incredible experience. But we're here now. We'll just have to watch it and enjoy it from here."

Toninato could have been like Chris Bourque, the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. Chris Bourque, 32, is with Team USA in PyeongChang as the leading scorer of the AHL's Hershey Bears. Bourque is on an AHL-only deal -- same as Stockton Heat's Cody Goloubef, the former Avalanche defenseman who is playing for Team Canada

Canada has four other former Avs on its Olympic team: forwards Wojtek Wolski (playing the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League) and Rene Bourque (Sweden) and defensemen Stefan Elliott (Sweden) and Karl Stollery (KHL). In addition, defenseman Maxim Noreau (Swiss league) was on an NHL/AHL contract with the Avs in 2015-16.

The Olympic rosters for all the gold-medal-worthy teams are filled with former NHL players who are past their prime or never managed to stick in the world's best league. But for three weeks in PyeongChang, the NHL rejects and amateurs like University of Denver junior Troy Terry of Highlands Ranch will be hockey's most envious players.

Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog, a 2014 silver medalist for Sweden, certainly wishes he could be playing in PyeongChang.

"It's disappointing. And it's frustrating," Landeskog said. "Any hockey player wants to play for their country and as far as playing for your country the Olympics is the biggest thing you can do. It's disappointing but our focus is on the season that we have over here and I'll make sure I'll support the Swedish troops from here."

NHL Spotlight on Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal Canadiens

When: The Avalanche hosts the Canadiens on Wednesday in a Valentine's Day game at the Pepsi Center.

What's up: Plekanec, 35, is Montreal's highest-paid forward at $6 million and taking the brunt of the blame for the Habs' struggles. He had just five goals in 54 games entering the weekend and Montreal was tied for third-worst in the Eastern Conference with 50 points.

Background: Plekanec is from Kladno, Czech Republic, and was selected by Montreal in the third round (71st overall) of the 2001 draft. He has never played for another NHL team and is on pace to reach 1,000 games late this season. Heading into Saturday, he had played 975 games and Montreal had 28 games remaining. Plekanec is 14th among Czech-born NHL scorers with 601 points.

Chambers' take: Plekanec is among Montreal's high-profile trade prospects, but here's hoping he remains a Canadien beyond the March 1 deadline and he reaches 1,000 games played with the same organization.

COLORADO AT BUFFALO, 5 p.m. Sunday, ALT; 950 AM

Spotlight on: Sam Reinhart. The third-year Sabres forward, 22, scored the game-winning goal with 4:14 remaining in the third period Thursday in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders, snapping Buffalo's four-game losing skid. Reinhart also had two assists in that game and entered Saturday's game at Boston with 11 goals and 26 points in 54 games. More offense is expected from the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, but he has 13 points (four goals) in his past 10 games. Since producing 23 goals as a rookie in 2015-16, Reinhart slipped to 17 last season -- a number he might not reach this year.

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