PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Jordan Greenway will celebrate his 21st birthday Friday by playing in an Olympic hockey game for Team USA. Let’s see other college kids try to top that.
The Boston University junior and Wild prospect scored a goal in his Olympic debut Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime loss to Slovenia, having already secured an important place in history. He is the first black U.S. men’s hockey player in Olympic history.
Greenway appears comfortable being labeled a trailblazer. Asked about it nearly every time he’s interviewed here, he embraces the significance of carrying this particular Olympic torch.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t think it has hit me like how it will later on in my life. I’ve always grown up around white population. Hockey is primarily a white [sport]. I’ve looked at it as another kid wanting to play in the Olympics. But it’s an honor and I’m very excited about it. I hope I’m the first of many.”
Greenway grew up Canton, N.Y., not far from the Canadian border. He didn’t think about race as it equates to hockey. He was just another kid playing his favorite sport with all the other kids.
Now that he has a platform, he hopes to expose the game he loves to kids who might not otherwise pay attention to hockey.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that more white people play than black people,” he said. “Hopefully I can be another role model to put in kids’ minds to go out and do something different. Hopefully, we’ll get more black people and difficult cultures playing the game.”
Greenway learned the game from his uncles and cousins. His younger brother James played for Wisconsin. Hockey was a family affair.
“In Canton, everybody plays hockey,” he said. “I was just next in line. I was put on skates at a young age and just kept going.”
He played other sports, too. Football, lacrosse, baseball. He was just “OK” in those sports, he said with a smile. None of them made him jump out of bed in the morning excited for practice like hockey did.
The Wild should be excited about his future. The organization drafted him in the second round with the 50th overall pick in 2015. Physically, he looks like a prototype power forward.
Listed at 6-6, 227 pounds, Greenway estimates that he’s 6-8 or 6-9 in skates, and that doesn’t seem like an exaggeration. Asked if many college players can match his size, he said, “Not a lot.”
U.S. coach Tony Granato said it’s no mystery what he and USA Hockey’s late general manager, Jim Johannson, saw in Greenway, one of four college players picked for the Olympic team.
“Size, speed, skates, scores, versatile to be on power play and penalty kill, can play center or left wing, big body, smart,” Granato said in one breath.
Yeah, but can he cook and create world peace?
Granato showed a lot of trust in Greenway in Wednesday’s opener by having him center the top line with Ryan Stoa and captain Brian Gionta. Greenway finished with one goal on four shots and also set up a teammate with a scoring chance with a slick takeaway.
“He was outstanding,” Granato said. “He made a ton happen offensively. He was responsible defensively. He played well.”
Greenway hasn’t shared his future plans beyond the Olympics, but his pro career is calling. These Olympic Games will give him a small taste. The Wild, like most NHL teams, could use more size and toughness in the lineup.
Once his NHL career begins, Greenway said he hopes to use his story to encourage more minorities to pick up the sport. Being here, on this stage and making Olympic history, is a good start.
“When I’m older,” he said, “I’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’ ”
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org