by Ian Esplen
February 19, 2014 (ISN) – Not just a training ground for Canada, here are five players with Western roots. Well, by the time you read this there is a a chance that some of the following players might be on their way back to their NHL teams after being eliminated.
But better late than never to celebrate a little bit of multiculturalism, Western Hockey League style.
In total, 21 non-Canadian WHL Grads will be representing their country in Sochi.
So, without further ado, here are my favourite five international grads of the WHL.
Michael Grabner – Spokane Chiefs, Austria
Long before Michael Grabner found a home with the New York Islanders, the speedy winger got his North American start with the Spokane Chiefs. In three seasons in Spokane, Grabner would score 88 goals in 180 games. Grabner was be selected 14th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks and was a finalist for the 2011 Calder Trophy.
Petr Nedved – Seattle Thunderbirds, Czech Republic
He only played one season in the WHL, but oh boy, was it a season. After defecting from Czechoslovakia, the fresh-faced 18-year-old took the league by storm when he suited up in 71 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Nedved would score 65 goals and 145 points – good enough for sixth in league scoring. Along with his WHL accomplishments, Nedved won a Silver Medal while playing for Canada in the 1994 Olympics and finished up his NHL career with 717 points.
Zdeno Chara – Prince George Cougars, Slovakia
Before he established himself as one of the game’s most dominating players, Chara was known mostly as a big, sort of awkward defenceman for the Prince George Cougars. Rumour has it that the Cougars used to advertise Chara’s size just to sell tickets. During the 96-97 season, Chara would play a combined 64 games for the Cougars, collecting 30 points and 165 penalty minutes – playoffs included. While people knew back then that he was a beast, few thought that he would develop into a player some consider to be the best defenceman in the world.
Marian Hossa – Portland Winterhawks, Slovakia
The other dominating Slovak who cut his teeth in the WHL is none other than Chicago Blackhawks sniper Marian Hossa. Hossa was assigned the the Portland Winterhawks for one season when he failed to stick on the roster of the Ottawa Senators. In only 53 games, Hossa would torch WHL goalies for 45 goals. He would also add another 13 in 16 playoff games. Yes, even at the young age of 18, you had the sense that Hossa was going to be a special player.
Nino Niederreiter – Portland Winterhawks, Switzerland
Simply put, the man known as El Nino is one of the most dynamic players I’ve seen come through the WHL in recent years. During his time with the Winterhawks, he put up seasons of 36 and 41 goals, with a lot of them being of the spectacular kind. While the ‘Hawks never made it to the Memorial Cup, Neiderreiter does already have a Silver Medal from last year’s IIHF World Championships in his trophy case.
Here are the other international players from the WHL
- Thomas Raffl (Kelowna Rockets, Swift Current Broncos)
- Stefan Ulmer (Spokane Chiefs)
- Gerhard Unterluggauer (Brandon Wheat Kings)
- Radko Gudas (Everett Silvertips)
- Martin Hanzal (Red Deer Rebels)
- Michal Rozsival (Swift Current Broncos)
- Lauris Darzins (Kelowna Rockets)
- Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (Brandon Wheat Kings)
- Ivan Baranka (Everett Silvertips)
- Milan Bartovic (Tri-City Americans, Brandon Wheat Kings)
- Marcel Hossa (Portland Winterhawks)
- Tomas Kopecky (Lethbridge Hurricanes)
- Martin Marincin (Prince George Cougars, Edmonton Oil Kings)
- Andrej Meszaros (Vancouver Giants)
- Bostjan Golicic (Calgary Hitmen)
- Roman Wick (Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge Hurricanes)