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Star players react to NHL's decision to pull out of Beijing Olympics

·7 min read
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The league has made it official: there will be no NHL players participating at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Due to a variety of reasons, including a potential quarantine of up to five weeks if a player tests positive while in Beijing and the league currently trying to find availability for 48 make-up games after a bunch of postponements, the league and the players’ union have decided to just call it dead.

With the news slowly coming out, many current NHL stars have shared their disappointment and are coming to terms that they might not ever see this chance again.

“It’s difficult to kind of wrap your head around,” Penguins star Sidney Crosby said Tuesday, “given the fact that we thought we would have the opportunity this time. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two. I definitely feel for the guys who have missed numerous opportunities. It’s not something where it’s the next year or you push it a couple months. These are the opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete. You might only get one. It just might happen to fall kind of into your window. If it doesn’t work out, it’s unfortunate.”

Crosby will be 38 years old for the 2026 Winter Games in Italy, so who’s to say that he will be good enough to outplay the next wave of Canadian talent?

"These are the opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete."
"These are the opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete."

"You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I've been able to accomplish that," Steven Stamkos said."You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That's something I probably won't have a chance to do now."

At least the Lightning captain has been able to check the first one off his list — twice in a row. Stamkos was technically a part of the 2014 Canadian team that clinched the gold medal, but an injury cut his tournament short and he wasn’t on the ice for the majority of the action.

His fellow Stanley Cup champion, Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, is trying to dull the Olympics pain with his multiple rings, and looking at the personal silver lining.

“That’s sad. It’s something we have been looking forward to for a very long time,” he said. “It’s out of our control what’s going on in the world. We were preparing for a battle in February in China but, like I said, it looks like it’s not going to happen so it’s a bummer to us to not be able to go. It’s going to hurt for a while, but, at the end of the day, you know, safety and everything. We’ll go for another Stanley Cup. That will be a good make-up for us.”

For the United States — a team that has only earned two silver medals since its gold in 1980 — the disappointment runs a little bit deeper.

“It’s just a tough situation for everybody,” Patrick Kane said Tuesday via The Athletic. “You’re excited to be able to get the chance to represent your country. Obviously, I’m 33 right now, so you’re hoping you can play as many as possible but I don’t know if it would’ve really been a true Olympics experience this year with being in a bubble and with all the worries going over there. We’ll see what happens but definitely fortunate to play in Sochi, and Vancouver was just unbelievable. I don’t think the Olympic experience will be even close to comparable to what we had there in 2010. We’ll see what happens, but you always want to represent your country every time you get a chance.”

It is a common enough theme among the players that are heading into their twilight years. They were just getting into their playing prime back in 2014 — the last time they appeared in an Olympic Games — so to have a two-tournament gap immensely hurts their possibility of ever returning.

At least they have their memories to keep them going. For the younger generation of players that are currently in their prime, it’s a story of waiting around for their first taste of the best-on-best tournament.

"Yeah, that sucks. I think everyone was looking forward to this," USA and Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor said. "We made it a big part of our collective bargaining agreement as the players, to bring the Olympics back. Whether it's about different circumstances about going to China with COVID and everything, I think it would have been a great tournament."

"If the next one's in four years, I'll be 32," fellow American and Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck said. "I know I'll be playing my best hockey, but it's going to be a different story."

“It’s always been my dream to play in the Olympics, and it’s too bad I haven’t had a chance to play yet. It looks like there’s no chance again, so it’s just not great,” Hurricanes and Finland winger Teuvo Teravainen said.

The biggest names in the sport — Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl — have not had a chance to even come close to participating in this tournament. Now, they will have to wait until they are deep into their 20’s or potentially slowing down in their early 30’s, to be on the international stage.

And as Crosby said, some player’s windows of peak performance will not line up with Olympic participation. The stars will stay great and have their reputation carry them to making their eventual debut, but the current up-and-comers that don’t have the pedigree as some others might not keep producing enough to get that elusive second chance.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as some are voicing the positive aspect of not going overseas.

“In my opinion (not going to the Olympics) is a smart decision,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’amour said. I don’t know who would really want to go under those circumstances. Especially, I just put myself in that situation, with a family and this and that, there’s a real chance you run the risk of getting stuck over there. That alone makes it not too enticing. I think it’s the right decision, if they don’t go. And then hopefully it opens up a window where you can make up some of this lost time, but I don’t know.”

It would’ve been a really great thing for our game to have all the NHL players,” Canada and Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said, “but from what I’m hearing and my personal opinion as well is that players are going to put their own health and their own families and their own clubs’ situation as priorities ahead of going over to Beijing and dealing with some very unpredictable scenarios, I guess. To me, that’s the right way to go about it. With the mess in our schedule, maybe there are ways we can rectify that and it won’t be as crazy as a schedule that goes late into the year.”

There is hope for the future though. Within the league’s press release on Wednesday, making the decision official, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stressed that he’s looking forward to participation in the 2026 Winter Games.

Maybe Crosby and Stamkos will still be dominating the league enough to win a medal with some more grey hairs on their heads.

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