Competing for your country is something that every athlete dreams of doing. Playing in the Olympics is one of those opportunities that elite athletes have to do so. Not this year.
Bettman opposes Olympics
Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, once again sided with the owners rather than the players. His decision to do so is supposedly based on the growth of the game. Bettman and the NHL argue that the cost of traveling and accommodations will take money away from growing the game.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly doesn’t see the purpose of the players participating in the Olympics. He suggests that the Olympics do nothing to further hockey or the NHL. In contrast, my own experience speaks volumes against that belief.
Sports’ center stage
The Olympics bring elite athletes, competitive sports and hostile nations together. In a world full of chaos and havoc, the Olympics bring a
sense of hope. Millions and millions of people tune in to the games in anticipation that their country might bring home a medal.
It becomes the center of the sporting world for two weeks.
The growth of hockey is something that all players, owners, and hockey representatives (NHL, KHL, NCAA, etc.) look for. What better opportunity to introduce the game to those unfamiliar than the Olympics. Suggesting that the games do not grow hockey seems unreasonable, especially at a place like PyeongChang, South Korea.
Being a former college hockey player in Virginia, hockey was not something relished among the other sports. However when the 2014 Winter Olympics came about, hockey became the center of my college dorm. Though most people knew I was on the hockey team beforehand, after the Olympics people were asking for tickets to my games almost every night.
Being from the USA, I began watching and cheering Team USA on in my room. The most significant game was USA versus Canada in the semifinals. Between 15-20 people showed up for that game to watch with me, most of whom had no interest in hockey until then. (And I will say, though disappointing, it may have been the most exciting 1-0 game I have ever watched.)
Just being able to watch the games online produced 15-20 fans alone. Hockey was always apart of our dorm because I played on the team, but the Olympic hockey games caused life-long fans to be born. Just in that small sample it can be seen how the game is growing. If it can grow like that in a country where hockey is prevalent, hockey can certainly grow in countries not so familiar.
A player’s perspective
Having the opportunity to represent your country is a dream. Many athletes never reach the level of play needed for a chance. Now because of the NHL’s decision, many players will not get the chance to represent their country on the biggest sporting stage in the world.
Many NHLers have expressed their disappointment in not being given the break to participate. Players such as Connor McDavid and Austin Matthews will not have the opportunity to play in these Olympics. These players are the ones who will grow the game and they are being limited to NHL play only. Their opportunity to win a gold medal at the Olympics has been taken away.
From a player’s perspective, the NHL has let them down. Yes, the games may impact the season in a few different ways, but it is worth it: for the fans and for the players.
As hockey begins at the Olympics, I am hopeful that the players given the opportunity to replace the NHLers will entertain those watching in South Korea and around the world. The hope of game growth is still possible with many good player participating. All the best to them. I will certainly be watching. The US Women’s team began preliminary play Sunday with a 3-1 win and the US Men will begin Wednesday.
Featured image by (Gregory Shamus:Getty Images).
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