NHL not to participate in Winter Olympics

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Will M. '19, Writer

It was decided in April the NHL would not participate or play in the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, now the games are a few days away, and the effects are becoming more prominent.

On April 3, the NHL officially announced their absence from the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. This came as a surprise to some, as the NHL has allowed players to compete in the past five consecutive winter games. However, the league made it clear after much consideration and discussion, their decision was set in stone.

“We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue,” the NHL said in an April statement released to their website.

The league went on to say despite their willingness to hear from other parties and take in all perspectives, months went by and “no meaningful dialogue [had] materialized.”

The NHL claimed the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) did not make an effort to make Olympic participation happen for the league. However, after the announcement in April, the NHLPA issued a statement in firm opposition, calling the NHL’s decision “short-sighted.”

“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to [this] season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage,” the NHLPA told Time Magazine.

“I understand both sides of this debate. To keep things simple, the potential for injury and the additional wear and tear on the players in what is already a long and grueling season is significant,” Olentangy Hockey Coach Mike Ross said. “However, selfishly, I want to see the best in the world compete…I feel [the NHL players] are also paid to help promote and grow the sport. The Olympic platform is a tremendous venue in which to do this.”

Individual players have expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of participation. One of these players, Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin, told the Capitals’ media in April he would leave his team in order to play for his native country, Russia. Since then, Ovechkin has said he will stay with the NHL, but is still one of many in the league unhappy with the decision.

Another headlining NHL player, Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, has two gold medals from the 2010 and 2014 games. In a quote to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, he called the decision “unfortunate.”

The question on many people’s minds is what will happen in the hockey event, as some of the world’s best players will be absent from the ice. The United States will still send a team, as are other hockey-powerhouse countries such as Canada.

“The NHL not being involved at the games is a change this year, but it is creating an opportunity for a number of players that may not have had the chance,” Team USA Hockey Trainer Christopher Mizer told The Beacon via email. Mizer works for The Ohio State University Sports Medicine program.

The USA’s roster will be made up of college hockey players, players from the American Hockey League, as well as any professional players in Europe. Though America will miss out on some of their best native players, a considerable effort can still be expected from Team USA Hockey.

“We expect to compete for a medal, and this will be no different,” Team USA’s coach Tony Granato said,, according to CBS.

After seeing several of the top prospects who will play for America, the USA is still a competitive team in the games. One of these players is Brian Gionta, the captain of the team. While not currently in the NHL, Gionta is only one year out of his exit from the league. Along with Gionta is Matt Gilroy, another ex-NHL player. Gilroy spent six seasons in the NHL starting back in 2009; however he now plays in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

“It will be more fun like this,” Tommy Bell ‘19 said, “even though it will be less efficient and slower, the games will be more competitive.”

Additionally, one of the names standing out on the roster is ex-NHL player veteran defenseman James Wisniewski. Wisniewski was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002, but played a number of years in Columbus for the Blue Jackets, causing him to be well-liked by locals. In the 2013-14 season, Wisniewski put up a career-high 51 points, and was an essential part of the team as he helped Columbus clinch its first playoff spot since 2009.  In 2015, Wisniewski was traded to the Anaheim Ducks and eventually made his way to the Hurricanes and Lightning. Now, Wisniewski plays in a German league for the Kassel Huskies, allowing him to be eligible for the Olympic Games.

“It’s got to be right up there with my first call-up to the NHL, my first game, my draft day, World Junior gold medal,” Wisniewski told O&E Media. “Everything has happened for a reason, and I couldn’t be happier and more blessed.”

While there’s no guarantee the USA will pull off something similar to the legendary 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” Americans are hopeful to see a competitive team. Despite the NHL’s decision to exclude their players, the hockey event in PyeongChang will continue to provide the excitement and competition enjoyed by citizens from all across the world. Team USA takes on Slovenia on Feb. 14, as their fight for their first gold medal in almost 40 years begins.