A little less than 5,000 miles away from Pyeonchang, South Korea, lies a city in southern Sweden named Linköping, home to former Ferris defenseman Chad Billins.
Billins, 28, was named to the USA Men’s Ice Hockey Olympic roster on Jan. 1 during the intermission of the National Hockey League (NHL) Winter Classic between the host New York Rangers and visiting Buffalo Sabres. A native of Marysville, Billins will be just the second Ferris alum to ever don the USA sweater in the Olympics and since Jason Blake in the 2006 Torino games.
“I think it’s a huge honor to represent your country on the world’s largest stage,” Billins said. “It’s a dream when you’re growing up as a little kid and it’s so exciting to actually live it.”
The opportunity for Billins to participate in the Olympics arose when the NHL announced it would not be sending its players to Pyeonchang due to the league’s inability to work out an agreement with the International Hockey Federation (IHF). This will be the first time since 1994 that players from the NHL will not participate in the tournament.
“I think that USA Hockey has put together a great team. Obviously, it changes things that the NHL players will not be involved but I think it shows the depth of USA hockey and the players they can choose from,” Billins said. “I think it will be a very competitive Olympics and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Billins, a member of the Linköping Hockey Club of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), is one of 15 members on the team that have NHL experience. Billins played ten games with the Calgary Flames during the 2013- 14 season, registering three points, while spending most of the season with the Flames affiliate in Abbotsford.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound defender was a member of the Bulldogs from 2008– 2012, logging 149 games where he tallied 17 goals, 50 assists and 108 penalty minutes. Billins was a part of the Frozen Four team in 2012 and his elite passing skills and leadership abilities cemented his legacy in Bulldog history.
“He’s such a great human. I’m happy for him and I’m happy for our school because we got the right people out their representing us,” Ferris men’s hockey head coach Bob Daniels said. “I’m very proud of Chad and I’m very happy for him.”
Since his time at Ferris, Billins has been all over the map, making stops in four different cities. Before signing with Calgary, Billins began his professional career with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL). Billins helped lead the Griffins to their first ever Calder Cup Championship, excelling under the coaching of fellow Ferris alum and Griffins’ head coach, Jeff Blashill.
After one year spent with the Flames organization, Billins went overseas to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) of Russia when he signed with CSKA Moskva. Billins left for Luleå HC of the SHL before making home in Linköping. Billins returned to North America with the Utica Comets of the AHL in 2016 before returning to Linköping for the 2017-18 season.
Though it’s a long way from home, Sweden has provided an easy adjustment for Billins.
“Surprisingly, Sweden is not that different from North America. They speak very good English, which helps and it honestly feels like we are back home besides the time difference of being six hours ahead,” Billins said. “There was a little bit of an adjustment period but the city and the guys in the locker room really do make it an easy transition.”
Though this will be the first time in the Olympics, Billins has suited up for the US in international competition before, including being a member of the Deutschland Cup team where the US played three games in Augsburg, Germany, back in November.
“There is a handful of players that I played with that represented the USA at the Deutschland Cup and the whole Olympic coaching staff was there as well. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of my future teammates and there will definitely be some familiar faces at the Olympics,” Billins said.
The team is scheduled to meet in South Korea on Feb. 8, where they will have a week of practice before playing their first game on Feb. 14 against Slovenia in the Men’s Group B Preliminary Round.
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