Penguins notebook: Neal takes news of Olympic snub in stride
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — If Olympic teams were selected based on statistics, James Neal would be headed to Sochi, Russia.
Instead, he'll have a couple of weeks off during arguably his finest season.
Neal didn't offer any explanation he received for not making the team, only that he received a phone call, and it wasn't the one he wanted.
He did not, however, sound bitter.
“It's an unbelievable team,” Neal said. “A lot of well-deserved guys.”
Neal didn't sound like someone in a funk over the news but instead sounded motivated to continue his stellar play. He has produced 16 goals and 34 points in 24 games this season.
“You've got to keep your head up and keep a smile on your face,” he said. “It's tough. It's disappointing. I wanted to be a part of that team so bad. You only get so many chances. It's the chances of a lifetime to play for Team Canada. I just have to keep my head up, keep moving forward. You never know what might happen in the future.”
Neal is second in the NHL in points per game, trailing only teammate Sidney Crosby.
During the past three NHL seasons, no Canadian winger has produced more than Neal's 77 goals. He also leads all Canadian wingers in goals per game and points per game during that stretch.
Defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury did not make the Canadian Olympic team, which didn't come as a shock.
Fleury wasn't invited to the team's summer orientation camp despite having Olympic experience and a Stanley Cup on his resume. He said Monday that he was hopeful that he would receive good news, but it never came.
Letang was once thought a strong candidate to make the team. However, a season filled with injuries and defensive lapses removed him from contention.
Headed to Sochi
Aside from the Team Canada news, three other Penguins learned that they were headed to the Olympics.
None came as a surprise.
Evgeni Malkin figures to center the top line for Russia as his nation hosts the Olympics. This will mark the third time Malkin has played in the Olympics; he also played in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.
Team Finland selected forward Jussi Jokinen and 19-year-old defenseman Olli Maatta. Jokinen and Maatta have known for weeks they had been selected but remained silent on the topic until Tuesday.
Maatta isn't sure if he would have made this team without the Penguins letting him play in the NHL this season. It wasn't originally in their plans, but Maatta gave them no choice after performing well in training camp.
“I have to thank the Penguins organization for giving me a shot to play here,” Maatta said.