Olympics adds another wrinkle to Hurricanes’ season

Players will be trying to earn points in the standings while also showcasing themselves for their national teams ahead of February’s Winter Games in Beijing

Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho, center, has represented Finland in international play before, but this February's Beijing Games would be the first time he and several Carolina players will have the opportunity to play in the Olympics. (Ivan Sekretarev / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Since his first day as Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour has made it clear there’s one goal for his team — to win a Stanley Cup.

So it’s no surprise that the Hurricanes — who fell short of that ultimate goal the last three years — brought in a player like Ian Cole to reinforce that objective.

“If you’re not playing to win Stanley Cups, I’m not really sure why you’re playing,” the two-time Cup-winning defenseman with the Penguins said Monday. “So that is the end goal, bar none. That’s it. Hard stop.”

But for a handful of players on the roster, there’s another carrot dangling in front of them this season that could further motivate them to be at their best — February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“Hopefully I’m going to play good enough I’m gonna make the team,” Martin Necas, a native of the Czech Republic, said Monday. “I always dreamed about playing at the Olympics.”

Necas is one of eight Hurricanes who look like locks for their country. While Carolina is unlikely to have anyone considered for favored Canada, it will probably have at least one player come back from Beijing with a medal.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen will both be key roles on Team Finland, while Jaccob Slavin (USA), Andrei Svechnikov (Russia), Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland), Frederik Andersen (Denmark) and prospect Dominik Bokk (Germany) should all earn spots with their respective countries.

It’s a double-edged sword for Brind’Amour, who played for Canada in Nagano in 1998 and now as a coach has to factor in how the extra games played will impact his team in its quest for a Stanley Cup.

“I want them to play because I know the experience is great,” Brind’Amour said. “On the other side, it’d be nice if they got a break. It’s gonna be a long year and all that. It’s such a good experience to be a part of as a player that you want your guys to do it.”

The experience comes with risks. The Olympics, like the NHL playoffs, sees players take their games to another level. That can lead to injuries and ailments.

And on top of preparing for the possibility of two weeks of intense games in China, players will also be back to an 82-game regular season schedule for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

Andersen, who will likely face a ton of rubber during the tournament as Denmark’s top goalie and player, said he hasn’t yet talked to the Hurricanes staff about how to manage his workload given the full NHL schedule and Olympics.

Necas, who was a candidate for the Czech team as a teenager in 2018, said readying for the Olympics presents a unique challenge.

“It’s tough to do,” he said. “I tried to prepare myself the best I could in the summer. Same here at the camp. … We’ll see. I think it should be fine.”

Then there are those who could make a case for an Olympic spot with a good start to the season. Sweden’s Jesper Fast, Finland’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Americans Brett Pesce and Vincent Trocheck could all be considered. But even those who are unsure of whether or not they’ll be headed to China to represent their country know the foundation of their year starts with the NHL season.

“For right now, it’s more about just getting a good start for the season and just be your best,” said Antti Raanta, who will share the Carolina crease with Andersen this year and is a candidate to be on Team Finland. “I just want to be more consistent, have more fun, enjoy the game, and if something good happens after you’ve done the right things, then it happens.

“I’m not thinking too much about the Olympics, but it would be awesome to get there. But you have to stop some pucks before you get your name in there.”