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Bucky Gleason: Buffalo sons Todd Marchant, Peter Ciavaglia remember last non-NHL Olympics

Todd Marchant was preparing to sell his house in Western New York last year when he stumbled upon boxes of items from a hockey career that started in Buffalo and took him around the world. One piece of his past was his Team USA jacket from the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer.

Marchant played 17 NHL seasons and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks. Many remember him with the New York Rangers or blossoming in Edmonton or his time in Columbus before Anaheim. Most long ago forgot that he played on the last U.S. Olympic team that did not include NHL players.

"We were just a bunch of young kids," said Marchant, now director of player development for the Ducks. "Even my kids are like, 'Dad was an Olympian?' "

Marchant was 20 years old when he left Clarkson University after his sophomore year with hopes of making the U.S. team as a long shot. He was a terrific skater and productive player but hardly dominated the college game. He was second-team all-conference before trying out for the U.S. team.

Former Nichols School star Peter Ciavaglia also played on the '94 Olympic team. He was an All-American who played four years at Harvard and led the Crimson to the 1989 NCAA championship. Two years later, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that is given to the top college player in the nation.

Ciavaglia could light up a scoreboard back in the day. He had 72 goals and 200 points in his first 141 games with the Rochester Americans but played only five NHL games over two seasons with the Sabres. He was 24 and playing professionally in Sweden when he was selected for the U.S. team.

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The vast majority of local hockey fans wouldn't even recall two sons of Buffalo hockey playing for the United States, which tied its first three games before beating Italy and limping home in eighth place. In '94, Americans were consumed by two other world-class skaters and barely paid attention to hockey.

"It was the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding Olympics," said Ciavaglia, a financial adviser in Michigan. "Couple that with the fact that we were the worst team ever, and it was easy to wipe that from your mind. I could count on one hand the number of people who knew that was part of my resume."

The roster also included Peter Laviolette, who made his mark as an NHL head coach; Chris Drury's older brother, former Harvard star Ted Drury; center Darby Hendrickson, who played 518 games in the NHL; goalies Garth Snow and Mike Dunham; and longtime Devils star Brian Rolston.

For months, the U.S. team carried 25 players knowing three would be cut before the Lillehammer Games. Players would come and go. One night, Jim Storm played for the U.S. team against the Hartford Whalers before leaving the U.S. team and signing with the Whalers immediately after the game.

Marchant and Ciavaglia took different paths to Lillehammer. From the beginning, Marchant played on the mother of all travel teams. Ciavaglia joined the Americans for a few games in Europe and met them at the Olympics. His pro team had seven Swedes who won gold and Canadian forward Greg Parks, who won silver.

"We traveled everywhere," Marchant said. "We went to Europe six times. We toured with a Russian team up and down the East Coast and through the South. We did a tour with a Canadian team through Canada. We played against NHL teams, American League teams, college teams and some of the best teams in Europe.

"It was a whirlwind year. The amount of travel we did in a short amount of time was outrageous. We lived in the Holiday Inn in Cromwell, Conn. We practiced out of a rink down the street and ate out all the time. We schlepped our own bags. It wasn't like you would expect for an Olympic athlete."

It didn't matter.

Neither would trade the experience. Marchant still recalls feeling strange about walking around the Kremlin while dressed head-to-toe in USA gear. He remembers standing with his teammates in awe atop a hill overlooking the beaches of Normandy. He visited places he'll never see again.

Members of the '94 U.S. team were old enough to remember the 1980 Miracle on Ice team before they were immortalized in a movie. The Olympics was a goal on their way to the NHL, but most played fewer than 100 games. Marchant and Rolston were the only members who won the Cup as players.

The U.S. finished 1-3-3 before going home. Marchant had one goal and one assist in the tournament, while Ciavaglia had two goals and two assists. Four years later, hoping to expand the game globally, the NHL agreed to stop the regular season and allow professional players to participate. It continued until this year in Pyeongchang.

"I remember the pride of stepping on the ice and wearing the jersey," Ciavaglia said. "I also remember it not going well hockey-wise. You have memories of the Olympic Village and other memories of not performing well as a team. There was definitely some obscurity. But for me, it was a great event in my life."

Ciavaglia never appeared in another NHL game while spending six more seasons in the minors and retired in 2000. He never married or had children and started a hockey-related charity for disabled kids in Michigan. Marchant married, had four children and played 1,195 games in the NHL.

"Not even 48 hours after, I signed a contract with the Rangers," Marchant said. "In a matter of eight months, my life got turned upside down. Eight months before, you're playing for Clarkson in Potsdam, N.Y. Eight months later, you're playing your first NHL game in Madison Square Garden against Chicago. It was pretty crazy."

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