We all know the powerhouses of international hockey: Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and the United States. These nations have put together impressive squads with and without NHL players throughout their storied histories.
But imagine for a moment the teams that are not hockey powerhouses. The ones that play without the bright spotlight of the IIHF’s premiere tournaments and are labelled as belonging to an inferior division of international hockey nations.
What if players were able to put on the uniform of their family’s cultural heritage or nationality? What would some of those teams look like? Well we at Brotherly Puck wanted an answer, so we decided to fill the void that is now with us thanks to the postponement of the NHL season to hopefully inform and entertain hockey fans of all backgrounds.
Greece has had an inconsistent and spotty relationship with the sport of ice hockey. While hockey was played by teams made up of Greek players from the United States and Canada as early as the 1920’s, Greece did not have an official governing body for the sport. A combination of climate, politics, and economics have made the embracing of ice hockey difficult in Greece. The warm Mediterranean climate that is synonymous with Southern Europe has been a large hindrance in the country fully embracing the ice version of the sport, as field hockey and roller hockey have both gained in popularity. With Greece joining the European Commission (now the European Union) in 1981, the conditions were ripe for Greece to enhance further integration into Europe through sport. Greece created an ice hockey team in 1984 with players who returned to Greece from abroad to form a team. Shortly thereafter, they created a national federation and officially joined the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 1987.
Greece’s first international tournament was the men’s IIHF’s World Hockey Championship in 1992. With 32 countries participating, the 1992 World Hockey Championships had the greatest participation up to that point with 5 new teams participating for the first time. Placed in pool C2 (essentially it should have been called Group D), Greece finished 3-0-2 with victories against Turkey, Luxembourg, and Israel but suffering defeats to Spain and South Africa. Greece finished 3rd in their pool (29th overall) behind Spain and South Africa with 36 goals for and 31 goals against.
That tournament in 1992 has been the best showing for Greece in international competition, and they have an overall record of 17-37-1. Greece has not been a regular participant in international tournaments and since 1992 have missed the World Hockey Championships in 1994, 1997, 2000-2007, and 2014-present. A major reason for this was finance as the Greek government stopped funding the sport, players had to pay their own way to international tournaments, and the country’s only Olympic size ice rink closed in 2003 thereby making Greece ineligible for international play and removed from the IIHF. Under pressure from national hockey team captain Dimitris Kalyvas, the IIHF reneged on its previous decision and reinstated Greece in 2008. With Greece enacting many severe austerity measures beginning in 2010, the sport looked to be in serious peril once again, however the Greek team did participate in the 2013 World Hockey Championships in South Africa and the country has built at least two ice rinks since 2006.
Despite all of these trials and tribulations, some noteworthy NHL players of Greek descent can be found. Although I could not find enough to fill and entire roster, the forward ranks contained some recognizable names with a severe lack of depth found especially in goal but also on defence as well. Before naming the players on my list, it must be noted that there is no evidence that I could find stating that Eric Lindros is of Greek descent. While there are people who have that belief, I could not find any concrete proof and as a result did not include him on the list (believe it or not but Lindros actually has ties to Sweden). Other players of note include Steven Stamkos (Greek sounding last name but his parents are from Macedonia and therefore he is not included) and Mike Zigomanis who was included in this list even though his parents are Macedonian but they hail and emigrated from a city in Greece.
Let’s take a look at what a starting lineup would look like for the Hellas on ice.
Jimmy Carson – Center
Jimmy Carson is by far the most established NHL forward of this group. While Carson may not sound Greek, his grandfather immigrated to the United States from Greece and changed his name (common among many newcomers). After spending 2 years in the QMJHL and scoring 114 goals, Carson was taken 2nd overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1986 NHL Draft. The Michigan native played his rookie season in 1986-87 scoring an impressive 37 goals and 42 assists for 79 points in 80 games. He finished 3rd in the Calder Trophy race for NHL Rookie of the Year behind teammate Luc Robitaille (who scored 45 goals) and Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall. He followed up his tremendous rookie season with an even better sophomore campaign, notching 55 goals and 52 assists for 107 points in 80 games and cementing himself as one of the top goal scorers in the game. Despite his goal scoring prowess, Carson’s legacy came as the main component of the trade that saw Wayne Gretzky get traded from the Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles on August 9, 1988. With new teammates in Edmonton, Carson continued to put the puck in the net by scoring 49 goals and 51 assists for 100 points in 1988-89. Success does not always mean happiness, as rumours swirled that Carson was not happy in Edmonton for multiple reasons leading to Carson demanding a trade from Oilers management after playing 4 games. Carson got his wish and was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for a package that included Petr Klima, Adam Graves and Joe Murphy. In 1989-90 Carson ended up with 20 goals in 44 games, but the Edmonton Oilers would be crowned Stanley Cup Champions to decisively win the trade. Carson would tragically never again regain the form of his first three seasons with goal totals of 20, 31, 34, and 25. His points declined along with his goals once he left Detroit and his career included forgettable stops with the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and Hartford Whalers. He then made his way to the Swiss league playing with Lausanne HC before playing in the IHL with the Detroit Vipers and winning the Turner Cup in 1997. Carson retired after the following season when the Vipers lost in the Turner Cup Final.
Here is a great video by TSN called “The Kid in the Shadow” about Carson’s perspective on being a part of the biggest trade in NHL history:
Andreas Athanasiou – Winger
Andreas Athanasiou is a speedy Canadian left winger who is currently on the Edmonton Oilers. While he still is in the early stages of his NHL career, the lack of depth on the Greek squad would make him a candidate for a top line spot with only perhaps Chris Kontos as his only competition for the spot. Athanasios’s junior career began with the London Knights of the OHL in 2010-2011 where he netted 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in 57 games. The following season saw Athanasiou double his goal total for 22 goals while adding 15 assists for 37 points in 63 games on a first place Knights team that also featured Bo Horvat and Max Domi. This led to Athanasiou to be drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 4th Round 110th overall at the 2012 NHL Draft. Later on that summer, Athanasiou was traded by the London Knights to the Barrie Colts for the 2012-13 season and took another step forward with 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points in 66 games. Athanasiou also finished second on the Colts in playoff scoring (to Mark Schiefele) with 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 22 games. He finished his junior career in 2013-14 by leading the Colts in scoring with 49 goals and 46 assists for 95 points in 66 games. After turning pro, Athanasiou played for the Red Wings AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins between 2013-14 and 2015-16 scoring 25 goals in 83 games. He made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and scored 9 goals in 37 games. His point totals have increased every year and hit a peak in 2018-19 when Athanasiou scored 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points in 76 games. With the Red Wings having an abysmal season mired in the basement of the NHL standings with the worst record in the league, Detroit traded Athanasiou and his 10 goals and 14 assists in 46 games to the Edmonton Oilers. With the Oilers for 9 games, Athanasiou has 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points since being dealt. He has consistently shown improvement throughout his hockey career, and with continued growth and improvement should be considered a starter on the Greek squad.
Here is a video from the NHL showcasing some of Andreas Athanasiou’s top plays in his career thus far:
Jordan Kyrou – Winger
Like Athanasiou, Jordan Kyrou is a Canadian youngster whose NHL career is only getting started. Beginning his 4 year junior hockey career with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2014-15, Kyrou scored 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points in 63 games. In his draft eligible year, Kyrou scored 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points in 65 games and scored 5 goals in 7 games at the World U18 Tournament. Kyrou’s play helped him get drafted in the 2nd Round 35th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2016 NHL Draft. He stayed with Sarnia for the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 seasons hitting the 30 and 39 goal mark while totalling 94 and 109 points in each of those respective years. Kyrou made the Blues roster out of training camp for the 2018-19 season and played in 16 games. With only 1 goal and 2 assists, Kyrou was sent to the Blues AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage. With San Antonio, Kyrou scored 43 points (16 goals) in 47 games and adapted well to the style of play in the American Hockey League. He also won a gold medal for Canada at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship scoring 3 goals and 10 points in 7 games. While he started this current season with the Rampage, Kyrou has been called back up to the big club with 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points in 28 games. As Kyrou continues to adapt and grow his game at the NHL level, his scoring rate should increase as his ability to find the back of the net has been apparent at all levels of hockey throughout his career thus far. Other than Jimmy Carson, Jordan Kyrou is the best goal scoring threat on team Greece and as such should merit strong consideration for a place in the starting lineup regardless of his lack of experience.
Here is some video of Jordan Kyrou in action with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage courtesy of ABC’s KSAT 12:
Chris Chelios – Defence
Without a doubt, Chris Chelios is the greatest player ever of Greek descent and he is also revered as the best American defenseman in history. The Chicago native was a 2nd Round selection (40th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1981 NHL Draft after two successful seasons at the University of Wisconsin. Chelios played only 12 games in 1983-84 (2 assists) but really made a splash in 1984-85 with 64 points (9 goals) in 74 games and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy losing it to Mario Lemieux. In 1985-86, Chelios would only play in 41 games but would add more hardware to his trophy case as the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Flames in five games. The next three seasons with Montreal entrenched Chelios as one of the best defensemen in the NHL as he scored 44, 61, and 73 points respectively en route to winning his first Norris Trophy in 1988-89. After 31 points in 53 games the following year, Chelios was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Chicago Blackhawks for Denis Savard. According to Mike Keenan, Chicago felt that they needed a blueliner of elite quality in order to improve the Blackhawks even though fans didn’t like the trade at the time as Savard was a very popular player. Chelios quickly won the Chicago fans over with his mixture of physical play and skill with two 70+ point seasons, two 60+ point seasons, one 50+ point season, and two 40+ point seasons in his nine seasons. Although he never won a Stanley Cup in Chicago, Chelios did win two more Norris Trophies in 1992-93 and 1995-96. In March of 1999 at age 37, Chelios was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. Although his point production dipped, Chelios maintained his status as a key contributor and a valuable presence on the Red Wings blueline. Chelios would lead the league with a +40 in 2001-2002 and would end up winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit twice in 2002 and 2008 (in which he was the oldest player to win it). Internationally, Chelios won Gold for Team USA at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and has represented his country 11 different times (4 as a Captain). After 7 games with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009-10, Chelios retired from his career at the age of 48. Chelios’ longevity is a testament to his legendary devotion to fitness, and his career stats reflect his position as one of the all-time NHL greats: GP 1651 G 185 A 763 PTS 948 PIMS 2891 to with 3 Stanley Cups and 3 Norris Trophies. Chelios was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
Here is a video from the NHL chronicling Chelios’ storied career:
Here is video from BroadStreetBully.com of Chelios hitting Brian Propp in the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Here is video of Ron Hextall going after Chelios later in the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Chris Kotsopoulos – Defence
Chris Kotsopoulous was a tough right shot defenseman from Scarborough Ontario who played in roughly 10 NHL seasons from 1980-81 to 1989-90. He primarily played for the Hartford Whalers and the Toronto Maple Leafs (4 seasons each), but also played for the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings. After playing his junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires in 1975-76, Kotsopoulos played in the IHL with the Toledo Goaldiggers in 1978-79 and went undrafted in the NHL Draft. Kotsopoulos signed with the New York Rangers and played for their AHL affiliate the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL in 1979-80. With New Haven, Kotsopoulos played in 75 games and scored 7 goals and 27 assists for 34 points. His impressive production as well as his rugged edge as a defender, led Kotsopoulos to make his NHL debut with the New York Rangers in 1980-81. He managed to play in 54 games during his rookie season, scoring 4 goals and 12 assists for 16 points in his rookie year. In early October of his second season, Kotsopoulos was traded by the New York Randers to the Hartford Whalers and proceeded to have the best season of his career in 1981-82 scoring 13 goals with 20 assists for 33 points in 68 games. He hit 30 points (with 6 goals) the following season, and he hit 18 and 8 points respectively in his remaining two seasons with the Whalers before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1985-85 season. With the Leafs, Kotsopoulous’ goal and point totals continued to decline beginning with a 6 goal campaign in his first season and then never breaking 2 goals for the next three seasons. Kotsopoulos remained a rugged defensemen but once he was done in Toronto, he played for the Adirondack Red Wings in 1989-90 before being called up for 2 games which proved to be the last of his career.
Here is video of Chris Kotsopoulos (TOR) taking the gloves off to face Bob Probert (DET) in 1987:
Mike Karakas – Goaltender
Depth in goal was very difficult to find for the Greek team, but digging through the archives the one name that came up was Mike Karakas. Karakas is a native Minnesotan who debuted in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks. In his rookie season in 1935-36, Karakas was awarded the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year playing 48 games and sporting a record of 21-19-8 with 9 shutouts and a 1.85 GAA. He played with Chicago for 4 more years afterwards but did not get a winning record in any of those 4 seasons. Unbelievably, Karakas managed to win the Stanley Cup in 1937-38 with a Blackhawks team that did not sport a winning record overall as they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 in a best of five series. Karakas missed the first two games of the final with a broken toe, but managed to return and win the final two games for Chicago with a steel toed brace. After winning the Cup Karakas asked ownership for a $500 raise but was refused. His play suffered but he did manage to keep his GAA under 3.00 for every season until 1939-40 and then he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. Karakas did not get a win in his time with the Canadiens, going 0-4-1 in 5 games. With his career seemingly in decline, Karakas spent the 1940-41 to 1943-44 seasons in the AHL with the Providence Reds but he also was a member of the New Haven Eagles even though he never played a game for them. Karakas added to his trophy case by winning a Calder Cup with the Providence Reds in the 1939-40 season leading him to called back for an eventual return to the Blackhawks in 1943-44. He was better than .500 in two of his three seasons in his second stint in Chicago including a selection to the NHL’s Second All Star Team in 1945. He returned to the AHL’s Providence Reds before retiring in 1948. Karakas was honored with an induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.
Team Greece – Final Roster
Andreas Athanasiou – Jimmy Carson – Jordan Kyrou
Chris Kontos – Mike Zigomanis – Tom Kostopoulos
Nick Kypreos – Nick Fotiu – George Parros
Niko Dimitrakos – Sam Anas – Adam Burish
Chris Chelios – Chris Kotsopoulos
Nikos Tselios – Tom Karalis
General Manager: Dave Nonis President: Peter Karmanos Jr.
Did I leave anyone out that you feel should be included? Any tinkering with the lineup that I selected? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,
photo credit: Ellines.com