Jordan Greenway on the big screen in Pyeongchang

Before he steps onto an NHL ice, Jordan Greenway had other ambitions. Jeff Swinger/USA TODAY Sports

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- One day late last week, the U.S. men's hockey team was going through a practice at the Olympic arena here. The players were in groups, cycling through the four corners of the ice as they went on quick rushes toward the goal before firing a shot on net and circling back the other way.

The pace was relentless, the movement perpetual. Watching from afar, most of the players blended together, a whirling mixture of helmets and pads gliding in a circle. Except for one.

Jordan Greenway knows he stands out. Part of it, of course, is the color of his skin -- "Well, hockey, primarily white people play it," he says, shrugging -- while part of it is the fact that, at 6-foot-9 on skates, he towers over nearly all of his teammates as well as most of his opponents.

"I mean, I hope I'm the first of many, but I'm really just here to try and focus on hockey." Jordan Greenway, being the first African-American player to compete for the U.S. in Olympic hockey

But as Greenway and his teammates prepare for their first game of this Olympics on Wednesday, he is doing his best to stay more focused on the second differentiator -- his size -- as a possible weapon during the games, than on the historical accomplishment that comes with being the first African-American player to compete for the United States in Olympic hockey.

"I mean, I hope I'm the first of many," Greenway said, "but I'm really just here to try and focus on hockey."

He added, "A little bit later, when I'm older ... I think it will really hit you."

For now, Greenway's attention is on doing whatever he can to help the U.S. team deliver a memorable performance in a tournament that is largely seen as wide-open because of the NHL's decision to prohibit its players from participating.

Greenway might have been caught up in that ban if he had signed for the Minnesota Wild, who drafted him in 2015. Instead, Greenway opted to spend another year in college at Boston University -- a decision that opened the door for him to achieve a dream he has had since he was a boy.

Tony Granato, who is the coach of the United States team, knows that there was a certain amount of serendipity in having Greenway on the team in South Korea, particularly since Greenway scored 10 goals and had 21 assists in 37 games for BU last season, then added three goals and five assists in seven games at the World Junior Championships as the United States won gold there.

"I think at the end of last year, with the year he had and the experience he had at the world championships, a lot of people thought he would sign and be playing pro right now," Granato said. "We're lucky he went back to school and we're happy to have him on our team."

Granato doesn't discount the importance of Greenway's size, particularly since the rest of the American roster isn't especially big. Having a larger player in the middle of the ice helps clog up the opposing team's ability to move quickly, and on the offensive end Greenway spends much of his time in front of net, where he is the closest thing to an immovable object a team could have.

In pre-tournament games, the Americans have struggled to finish off their scoring opportunities, so Greenway's ability to create havoc near the goal could be critical.

"But you don't only take a player because of his size -- he's got to be able to skate and play," Granato said. "And I think Jordan, for a big guy, moves up and down the ice very well."

Greenway, who is now 20, has been skating since he was 3. Growing up near the Canadian border in Canton, New York, which is there was never any question that Greenway and his brother, J.D., would play hockey. It was what everyone did.

Greenway dabbled with other sports, he said, but knew quickly that hockey was the only one that inspired any sort of real passion.

"I played football a little bit, lacrosse, baseball -- I was OK at them," he said. "But I enjoyed waking up early in the morning to play hockey -- I didn't really want to do that for the other ones."

Greenway and his brother both went to Shattuck St. Mary's, a top hockey prep school in Minnesota, after agreeing to a deal with their mother: She would pay for the prep school if they earned college scholarships.

Now, J.D. is a sophomore at Wisconsin (and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016) while Greenway is set to be part of a team composed of several different types of players.

Without the big names from the NHL, the American team is made up of a mishmash of former pros, journeymen, minor leaguers and young stars-in-waiting like Greenway.

Using a roster of unheralded players worked out memorably well for the United States during the famous "Miracle on Ice" tournament at the 1980 Olympics, and Granato has preached to the players that they need to seize their moment.

"We were given an opportunity that we never expected," said Brian O'Neill, a forward for the US team. "And I think that's an advantage to us because I think it'll take a little bit of pressure off us and we can all enjoy it and relish the opportunity."

For Greenway, it is an opportunity he never thought would come this early in his career. He had assumed that, if he ever got the chance to compete in the Olympics, it would come once he had made the NHL and established himself as a top player.

Instead, the NHL decided not to send its players to the Games for the first time since 1994 and Greenway's choice to stay in school opened a door for him to make history.

"I never thought I'd be here this early," Greenway said. "I couldn't be more excited."