Ryan Zapolski to start in goal as US men’s hockey team begins play against Slovenia on Wednesday

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Zapolski of Erie, Pa., will start in goal for the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team in its tournament opener against Slovenia on Wednesday, USA Hockey announced Tuesday.

Zapolski, 31, played at Mercyhurst College and then bounced around early in his professional career, playing on six ECHL teams and two American Hockey League teams in his first three seasons. He left to play two seasons for Lukko in Finland’s Elite League before moving on to Jokerit, a Finland-based team that is a member of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. In 38 games with Jokerit this season he had a 1.73 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Zapolski’s odyssey is similar to those experienced by many U.S. players here. After the NHL declined to allow its players to represent their homelands, executives in charge of the 12 teams in the men’s tournament had to search far and wide for candidates to fill out their rosters. The U.S. team has four college players, some former NHL players and many others who either couldn’t establish themselves in the NHL or never got the chance to play there but continued to play hockey in leagues around the world.

The U.S. is the No. 5 seed here, behind Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland.

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