By Larry Fine
NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Henrik Lundqvist is looking forward to playing in the re-booted World Cup of Hockey but the Swedish goalie hopes the tournament does not ultimately spell the end of NHL participation in the Olympics.
The NHL has not yet committed to send its players to Korea for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, focusing for now on its eight-team World Cup of Hockey that will return later this year after a 12-year hiatus.
But Lundqvist, who won Olympic ice hockey gold with Sweden in 2006 and silver in 2014, feels sending NHL players to the Olympics is a great opportunity for growing the game.
"It's the best and biggest stage for hockey," the 33-year-old goalie told Reuters after a photo shoot at the Central Park skating rink to promote a Tag Heuer watch. "You get people to watch hockey that don't normally watch. I experience that every time after an Olympics.
"It's just a good platform. If you can get Asia more involved in hockey to grow the sport, I think it's a great opportunity."
The National Hockey League has participated in the past five Winter Olympics, including two in Europe and one in Asia, but have concerns about going to Pyeongchang due to the lengthy break that would interrupt the league's regular season.
The Sept 17-Oct. 1 World Cup in Toronto appeals to the NHL as it helps expand its international presence while, unlike the Olympics, giving the league full control of an event along with a new revenue stream.
But for Lundqvist, swapping the blue jersey of his NHL's New York Rangers for the Tre Kronor at a major multi-sport event is something too special to pass up.
"Being at the Olympics is just an amazing feeling to have, with all the other athletes there, and the energy that's there," said Lundqvist. "To see them in action, it's so inspiring.
"I love it, it's very pure. It's all about the sport."
But for now, apart from focusing on getting his Rangers in position to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lundqvist is excited to represent Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey.
The tournament will feature the traditional power nations of Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic along with a team of players from other European countries and a North American team made up of players 23-and-under.
"It will be exciting. I think it will be a great tournament," said Lundqvist. "The best players will be there. Every time you represent your country in a big tournament you're very proud.
"Growing up, that was what I always dreamed about, playing for your country, putting that yellow jersey on," he added. "It's just a good feeling." (Editing by Frank Pingue)