The U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team has names from Tampa Bay Lightning’s past
Why does Noah Welch’s name seem familiar?
On Monday, during the Winter Classic festivities in New York, USA Hockey announced their roster for the Men’s Olympic Hockey team. Ignoring the awkwardness that USA Hockey used an NHL platform to make the announcement DESPITE Commissioner Bettman not allowing the best players in the world to participate, it was nice to finally see who was going to PyeongChang to challenge for the gold. The roster is, as expected, was comprised of a mishmash of college and former NHL players currently plying their trade in the AHL or Europe.
USA Hockey General Manager Jim Johannson described the team as “a group that brings versatility and experience.” Fans might be more likely to say, “Wow those guys are still playing?” when seeing the roster. The most recognizable name is the captain, Brian Gionta. The longtime Devil (who once scored 48 goals in a season) has previous Olympic experience, having played for the 2006 team that did not win a medal in Turin, Italy.
Lightning fans might recognize a couple of other names as they scroll down the roster: Noah Welch and Matt Gilroy. Both players played parts of a single season with Tampa earlier this century. While neither had a huge impact on the organization’s success (or failure), since they are going to be battling for American Glory, here is a deeper look at their time with the Lightning.
Noah Welch came to the Lightning in March of 2009. It was not a great time for the local hockey club. The Lightning were bad on the ice and a mess off of it. In the midst of a last-place season, General Manager Brian Lawton was doing his best to get something for the limited assets he had on the team. He made five trades from February 7th through March 10th and unloaded Mark Recchi, Jussi Jokinen and Olaf Kolzig. One of those transactions included Steve Eminger being dealt to the Florida Panthers for Welch and a third-round pick.
Welch was a former second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but had been traded to the Panthers for Gary Roberts in 2007 after failing to make a mark on the rebuilding Penguins. Eminger had played well in the short time he was with the Lightning, well enough that the cash-strapped Lightning wouldn’t have been able to afford his next contract. So he was dumped off to the Panthers.
Welch ended up playing in 17 games with the Lightning alongside such great names as David Koci, Matt Smaby and Lukas Krajicek. He recorded no points and really created no notable memories. Following the season he signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Thrashers. He played two games in Atlanta in 2010-11 before heading off to Europe.
On-ice contributions: 17 games 0 goals 0 points
Off-ice contributions: Since he was traded for Steve Eminger (who was part of the Steve Downie trade) he is part of one of the great trade chains in the history of the organization. Also, another great contribution might be one he makes after he is no longer among the living. Back in 2008 (prior to the trade to the Lightning) he decided to donate his brain to Boston University’s School of Medicine to help in concussion research.
While Matt Gilroy’s 53-game Lightning career was only a little bit longer than Welch’s, he was able to contribute a bit more on the ice. Granted, the year he was with Tampa was 2011-12, the same year Steven Stamkos scored 60 goals. So pretty much everyone who stepped on the ice for the team picked up an assist or two that season.
For the record, Gilroy had a total of 17 points (2 goals and 15 assists) that season. Six of those assists came on Stamkos goals. There was an impressive stretch from October 17th to November 30th where Gilroy recorded 5 points. All of them were primary assists on Stamkos goals.
The Lightning were reportedly suitors for Gilroy after he won the Hobey Baker Award while at Boston University. He eventually signed with the New York Rangers and after some early promise, ended up getting squeezed out of the line-up after two seasons of play. The Lightning, as always, had openings on their blueline and General Manager Steve Yzerman signed him to a reasonable 1-year, $1 million contract.
The Lightning were coming off of their surprising playoff run the previous season and Gilroy had the opportunity to help them get back. Unfortunately, he struggled to adapt to Guy Boucher’s system early in the season and his offensive tendencies led to turnovers and bad positioning. That led to a few games a healthy scratch. He eventually worked his way back into the line-up.
As the season dragged on and the Lightning fell out of contention, Mr. Yzerman moved on from the Gilroy experiment. He traded the puck-mover to Ottawa for Brian Lee, a younger, bigger blueliner. It was also the same day that the Lightning traded for 6’4” Keith Aulie as Mr. Yzerman looked to make his defensive corps younger and taller.
Following the trade, Gilroy bounced around the league for the next couple of seasons before landing in the KHL where he has found steady work, most recently for Jokerit where he has 25 points in 44 games this season.
On ice contributions: 53 games, 2 goals, 15 assists
Off ice contributions: Gilroy has a backstory that is tailor-made for the Olympics. NBC loves a good underdog battle, and Gilroy has always had to work hard for everything he has accomplished. Also, he rocked the number 97 sweater way before some kid named Connor McDavid came into the league.
James Wisniewski also was named to to the Olympic roster. His ties to the organization don’t run quite so deep. He appeared in Lightning training camp on a PTO but didn’t make the club.
As the other countries announce their rosters, it’s likely more former Lightning players will get a chance to chase Olympic glory.