July 16, 2019

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Opinion

Genoway's thrill of a lifetime

Morden man hits the ice at Olympics

Julio Cortez / The Associated Press</p><p>Switzerland’s Vincent Praplan, left, and Canada’s Chay Genoway stare each other down during Thursday’s game.</p>

Julio Cortez / The Associated Press

Switzerland’s Vincent Praplan, left, and Canada’s Chay Genoway stare each other down during Thursday’s game.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2018 (515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Chay Genoway has one of those back stories that Disney will love if this rag-tag bunch of Canadian men’s hockey players goes on to write the sequel to Miracle on Ice over the next 10 days.

Humble roots in the prairie town of Morden. A spectacular college career at the University of North Dakota, interrupted by a devastating concussion. A college roommate in Jonathan Toews, who went on to become one of the NHL’s all-time greats.

And then the part that would strain the credulity of even the fantasists at Disney: after a lifetime of waiting, he finally gets called up to the NHL in 2012 by the Minnesota Wild. He notches an assist in his first game. Then he gets sent back down, never to return.

One NHL game. One NHL point. Cue the credits.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2018 (515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Chay Genoway has one of those back stories that Disney will love if this rag-tag bunch of Canadian men’s hockey players goes on to write the sequel to Miracle on Ice over the next 10 days.

Humble roots in the prairie town of Morden. A spectacular college career at the University of North Dakota, interrupted by a devastating concussion. A college roommate in Jonathan Toews, who went on to become one of the NHL’s all-time greats.

And then the part that would strain the credulity of even the fantasists at Disney: after a lifetime of waiting, he finally gets called up to the NHL in 2012 by the Minnesota Wild. He notches an assist in his first game. Then he gets sent back down, never to return.

One NHL game. One NHL point. Cue the credits.

Until now, if you’d heard of Genoway at all, which is unlikely, it’s probably for that: he is perhaps the most unlikely point-per-game NHLer in the league’s history.

But now? Well, as of Thursday night Korea time, Chay Genoway is also an Olympian playing big minutes for Team Canada.

If you think that means a lot to a guy who’s had the heart-breaking kind of journey through hockey that Genoway has had, man, you don’t know the half of it.

Seeing as you’re asking, Genoway is happy to share just how much.

"The Free Press? Right on," the defenceman said with a grin following Canada’s 5-1 thumping of Switzerland in their opening game of the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Thanks for coming. Really."

So what’s it like for a guy from Morden to skate on a rink with five rings on it?

"This a very special thing to happen to me in my career. I’m 31 years old. To get an opportunity like this, it doesn’t get much better."

Genoway led all Canadians in ice time for the first period against the Swiss and finished the night with a workmanlike 23 shifts over 16 minutes of Olympic ice time.

It wasn’t flashy, but then nothing about this Team Canada is. With the NHL sitting this one out, the task of defending the Olympic golds Canada won in Sochi in 2014 and in Vancouver in 2010 falls to a diverse collection of skill sets, with most of them on the downward slope of whatever careers they had.

Sidney Crosby is out, Rene Bourque — who scored twice for Canada against the Swiss — is in. John Tavares is out. Wojtek Wolski — who also scored twice against the Swiss — is in.

And Toews. He’s out, too. But his college roomate is in — and loving the big role he’s been given on this team.

"It’s tough to say what role you’re going to play. We’ve got eight good D-men and we’re trying to get everyone minutes," said Genoway.

"So it was a lot of fun to get in the game and get in a rhythm like that. And for me, I’m a smaller guy, so that’s a big thing: to get my legs moving and get in the flow of the game naturally."

Whatever role Genoway ends up playing on the ice for Team Canada, he’s already played a huge role for the club off of it.

The only player on the squad with Toews’ number in his contact list, Genoway took it upon himself to ask Toews to address the team via a conference call prior to the start of this tournament.

Toews had a simple message: Team Canada wins as a team. If that means you need to score, you do that. If that means you have to block a shot with your face, well, you do that, too.

It was a message that resonated with a blue-collar squad that has more face-blockers than goal scorers on the roster.

"When you hear it from Jonathan Toews, you hear it from a guy who is a top player on his own team," Team Canada general manager Sean Burke told reporters prior to the start of this tournament. "Then they join the Olympic team and they kill penalties or they block shots and do what it takes. It hits home."

Make no mistake, these guys might not be NHL stars, but they’re not beer leaguers either. Bourque had back-to-back 27-goal seasons for the Calgary Flames in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Wolski had 99 goals and 168 assists in eight seasons in the NHL.

Genoway is no scrub, either. He plays big minutes in the KHL for Lada Togliati and was named to last season’s KHL all-star team.

A two-time all-American at UND, Genoway was also a Western Collegiate Hockey Association student athlete of the year and the captain of the Fighting Sioux for two seasons.

But Genoway’s career, whatever it’s been, was also almost over before it started. He missed all but nine games of the 2009-10 season with post-concussion syndrome at a time when there was much less awareness about the dangers of concussions then there are now.

He got credit from the NCAA for the lost season with what’s called a "medical hardship" waiver, which allowed him to play a fifth season in Grand Forks.

Signed as an undrafted free agent in April, 2011 by the Minnesota Wild, he played his lone NHL game at the end of the following season, notching that assist against the Arizona Coyotes on April 7, 2012.

He spent another year in the minors for the Wild, got traded to the Washington Capitals and spent one more year in the minors for them. His NHL career behind him, he signed in the KHL in 2014 and has been there ever since.

It’s a living, if not necessarily his dream. Still, there’s satisfaction in earning your living playing a game you love.

But the thrill of Genoway’s life is over here, right now, in this moment — playing for free for his country.

"It didn’t take much of a warm-up today to get up for this one. It’s been a long time coming. It felt good to get out there and burn off some energy."

So whither this Team Canada? Well, for all the hand-wringing that’s been going on all winter long from Bonavista to the Queen Charlotte Islands, this NHL-less Team Canada looked against the Swiss a whole lot like the NHLers did the last few Olympics, which is to say dominating.

Playing a Swiss team that Team Canada officials privately confessed they were worried about, this one was never in doubt. Bourque had Team Canada up 1-0 before the game was three minutes old and at no point did you ever think this was going to be anything other than a Canada victory.

They have a stingy and mobile defensive corps. Bourque and Wolski can obviously score at this level. Defenceman Maxim Noreau had the other Canada goal.

They scored twice on the power play, which suggests their special teams are further along than you’d expect for a team that’s only been together a few weeks.

There’s a swagger to these guys. Maybe it’s the Maple Leaf, or maybe it’s just the Olympics, but a bunch of guys that have been beaten up and beaten down by hockey over the years looked every bit like they’re here to kick some ass and take home gold, again.

I asked Genoway if he had a message for Canadians who are feeling sad the NHL sat this one out and worrying about the calibre of team we sent to Korea to represent our beloved national game.

"I think we’ve given people back home a little bit of that message with what we did here tonight," said Genoway. "We’re going to play hockey the Canadian way."

The faces have changed dramatically for Team Canada at these Olympics. But the hockey? In a 5-1 shellacking of the Swiss, it looked very familiar.

Miracle on Ice, Part II? It’s never a miracle when Team Canada dominates the world at hockey. The miracle would be the day we don’t.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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