Team USA Olympic snub adds fuel to Kyle Okposo’s fire

Adam Proteau
kyle okposo (Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s no soft-pedalling it: Kyle Okposo was hugely disappointed to be left off the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. And he has a good case.

In a year when little has gone right for his New York Islanders squad, Okposo, 25, is well on his way toward demolishing personal bests in goals, assists and points. The seventh overall pick in 2006 must have looked to Team Canada, saw Jamie Benn go from non-summer-orientation-camp-invitee to Olympic team member in a few short months and wondered why he was passed over for the likes of Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie.

When it settled in that he wouldn’t be in Sochi, Okposo did the best thing possible – he took his frustrations out on the ice. In the Islanders’ first game after the Olympic announcement, Okposo scored the overtime winner against Chicago. Team captain John Tavares recognized loud and clear the message Okposo sent.

“I don’t know if he thought (Team USA GM) David Poile’s head was in the net and he was aiming for it,” Tavares told the media.

Okposo prefers leaving the furor over his Olympic snub in the past. He has many more positives in his life – including the recent birth of his first child with wife Danielle – to focus on. After a 2012-13 campaign in which he had just four goals and 24 points in 48 games, the St. Paul, Minn., native is on nearly a point-per-game pace – 60 in 61 games, including 25 goals – this year. He chalks up the difference to confidence and his initial NHL playoff experience last season.

“I kept hitting streaks throughout my first few years of contributing and not contributing,” Okposo said. “Playing in the playoffs last spring was an eye opener for me (in terms of) the level you need to consistently play at to have success. I tried to carry that intensity level over to my summer workouts and into this season.”

For Okposo, who is in the third season of a five-year, $14-million contract, being a parent for the first time has given him a perspective that makes not playing in the Olympics a little more palatable.

“It has been incredible,” Okposo said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling when your child is born and placed in your arms. It was the best day of my life and something I will never forget. Every second I’m home with her, I’m cherishing every moment.”

This feature originally appeared in the Jan. 27 edition of The Hockey News magazine (stats were updated). Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.