By Sophia Belletti
Capital News Service
When the NHL closed the door on its players competing in the Winter Olympics, it opened a door for Virginia native Garrett Roe to represent the U.S. on the men's ice hockey team in the sport's biggest international event.
In April, the NHL announced that it would not participate in the Winter Games in South Korea. "The overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players," the league said.
So the U.S. hockey team turned to Americans who weren't playing for the NHL – like Roe, a 5-foot-9 center for the team EV Zug in the Swiss national hockey league. Roe, who is from the Northern Virginia town of Vienna, is the team's leading scorer.
In December, Roe woke up in his apartment in Zug to a missed phone call from USA Hockey general manager Jim Johnson. Johnson was prepared to ask Roe to do something many top athletes can only dream of – to represent his country in the Olympics.
Roe and Johnson eventually connected – and that's how Roe now finds himself in South Korea ready to face off against players from Russia in the U.S. team's first game on Feb. 17.
Roe was born into a hockey family. His father, Larry, played and coached hockey; his two older brothers played the sport, too.
"When we first started coaching him, you could tell he had that extra little sense for the game," Larry Roe told The Washington Post. "Some players have a sense for the game. Some players are talented. Some players have both, and that's Garrett."
After high school, Roe played for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, the country's top junior ice hockey league. Then he attended and played NCAA hockey for St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. When he graduated in 2011, he was the school's all-time leader in assists and third all-time in points scored.
After college, Roe played for the Adirondack Phantoms in the American Hockey League, which serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL.
Two years later, Roe signed with EC Salzburg of the Austrian elite league EBEL for the 2013-14 campaign. Since then, he has played for pro teams in Germany, Sweden and now Switzerland.
Looking back, Roe, now 29, wonders if his decision to abandon the American minor leagues and play overseas was rash. It effectively ended any chance he had of making the NHL, his boyhood dream.
"If I could do it all over again, I'd probably make a different decision," Roe said in an interview with The Washington Times. "I'd try to stay at home and try to better myself and believe in myself."
In his biography on the national team's website, Roe said his favorite moment in USA Hockey history is the "TJ Oshie shootout and the Miracle on Ice." At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, Oshie scored on a penalty shot after overtime as the Americans beat the Russian team, 3-2.
Next week, Team USA will face the Russians again. Roe has high hopes.
"I like the team we have; I think we have a lot of blue-collar-type guys," he told radio station WTOP. We're going to be a team that's extremely hard to play against and hopefully extremely hard to beat. That's the goal."