, , , , , ,

BUFFALO, N.Y. – “Who are these guys?”

That’s likely to be the response from some fans on New Year’s Day when USA Hockey announces the roster for the men’s team that will compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea Feb. 9-25.

Forward Jordan Greenway has represented the U.S. before. Will he do it again in PyeongChang? (Photo/Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

The National Hockey League isn’t pausing its season to send its star players to the Winter Games for the first time in 30 years, meaning hockey powers such as the United States, Canada, and Russia are going to have to be creative in filling out their Olympic rosters.

The U.S. team could be a mixture of young collegiate stars and seasoned former NHLers who are still playing the game in North American minor leagues, Europe, or elsewhere.

If that’s the case, watch out for two names: Jordan Greenway and Robbie Earl. Greenway, a left wing for Boston University and a 2015 second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, made an international splash about this time last year at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.

The 6-foot-6, 227-pound forward from Canton, New York, was  physical force with a deft scoring touch at the tournament. He notched 3 goals and 5 assists in seven games at the 2017 World Juniors.

Boston University forward Jordan Greenway played in both the IIHF’s World Junor Championship and World Championship in 2017 (Photo/Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Greenway, 20, also appeared in eight games for the U.S. at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris and Cologne in May. He went scoreless in a tourney that featured squads stocked with NHL players whose teams didn’t make or were eliminated early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Greenway got off to an admitted slow start at BU this season, tallying 7 goals and 10 assists in 19 games.

“I don’t think I’ve played as well as I wanted to here in the first few games of the season,” Greenway told the St. Paul, Minnesota’s twincities.com in November. “I still have a couple of months to show them what I can do. I do think I could play in the Olympics, for sure.”

Jordan Greenway hopes to overcome a slow start at Boston University this season and make the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team (Photo/Boston University).

Slow start or not, U.S. hockey people like Greenway’s game. He participated in the Team USA pre-Olympic media summit at Park City, Utah, in September and posed for pictures wearing a U.S. national team jersey with the American flag in the background.

“I feel very fortunate for this opportunity,” he told reporters at the summit. “I didn’t think it would come this soon, but I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

Will forward Robbie Earl go from 2005-06 Frozen Four MVP to 2018 U.S. Olympian?

Earl also appears to be trying to take advantage of opportunity presented to him.  The 32-year-old forward from Chicago is an assistant captain for EHC Biel, a team in Switzerland’s National League.

He had an Olympics audition of sorts playing for the U.S. at the four-team Deutschland Cup tournament in November. He was scoreless in three games.

Earl played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin from 2003-04 to 2005-06. The Badgers won the NCAA Frozen Four title in Earl’s final year at the school and he was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He scored 58 goals and 63 assists in 125 games in his collegiate career.

He was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2004 NHL Draft. He appeared in 47 NHL games between the Leafs and the Minnesota Wild, tallying only 6 goals and 1 assist.

Robbie Earl skated for Team USA at the 2017 Deutschland Cup in November Photo/von Mathias Renner/City-Press GbR via USA Hockey).

Earl had a productive North American minor league career playing for the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate in Toronto and the Wild’s former farm team in Houston, collecting 66 goals and 103 assists in 313 games.

His scoring carried over to Switzerland where he’s skated for Biel, EV Zug, and Raspperswil-Jona. He has 91 goals and 110 assists in 225 NLA games since 2012-13.

An assistant captain on the Biel team this season, Earl has 11 goals and 13 assists in 30 games.

Chicago native Robbie Earl is a swift-skating scoring threat for EHC Biel in Switzerland (Photo/Hervé Chavaillaz).

While Greenway and Earl represent opposite ends of the hockey spectrum – one player nearing the start of his professional career while the other is approaching the twilight of his – they have one thing in common: University of Wisconsin connections.

Earl is a Wisconsin alum. Tony Granato, the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team head coach, is also the Badgers bench boss. Greenway’s younger brother, J.D., is a sophomore defenseman who plays for Granato at Wisconsin.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.