NHL Bars Olympic Participation

Hockey in the Olympics has been at a disadvantage compared to basketball. Basketball is in the summer, which means that as the NBA season gets over in mid-June and the Olympics are in July, the athletes are primed for peak international performance. The NHL season is from October to June and the Winter Olympics are in February. Because of this, the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has only authorized his athlete’s’ attendance at the Olympics five times from 1998 to 2018. Many NHL players were planning to go to the 2022 Olympics as there was a three week break originally allotted for their time to play overseas. However, COVID-19 remained a concern for Bettman. If a player became infected, they would have to stay in Beijing for three weeks,  affecting the NHL season. Therefore, Bettman prohibited his players from attending the 2022 Winter Games.

        When people hear about college players in the Olympics, they think of the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980, when the Americans shocked the heavy favorites, the Soviet Union, to win. The American Olympic Team had just two months to put a team together. 

       In 1980, the tension between the U.S.A and Russia came because of their disagreements over the Cold War, and the two teams were therefore on strict lockdown. This year, the teams are in a lockdown of a different sort, but the teams still mostly stay inside their dorm, and leave only for practice and games. 

    Because there are no NHL players, many spectators may not recognize the college athletes they are watching, unless they are a University of Minnesota or Boston College hockey fan.        With those schools having the majority of the players, it would have been awesome to have Austin Matthews, who was projected to become captain of the USA team. Instead, we had Andy Miele as our captain. 

The team was ready to go. In the stage group they faced off against Canada, China, and Germany. First, they played China and won in an 8-0 blowout— – there wasn’t really a question about the team’s skill. Canada has won the Olympics for men’s ice hockey in 2002, 2010, and 2014. This game could have been a blowout because all of Canada’s players were juniors. It ended up being a thrilling game. The USA took the first goal and ended up winning the game 4-2. The USA faced Germany next, and had the lead for most of the game. A late surge was mounted by Germany, but a final goal gave the USA a 3-2 victory.   

       The USA needed three games to win it all. After seeing the USA win the group, there seemed to be high hopes for the Americans. The quarterfinal was against Slovakia, and USA once again held the lead for the whole game. In the last minute, Slovakia pulled their goalie and tied the game. Overtime had the teams neck and neck, and the game went to a shootout.  Each team gets five tries to score, and the first goals were blocked by the goalies. Then Slovakia got a goal off. So the USA needed this goal and then blocked the next one, so they lost. The real hope is for 2026, because the NHL says they want to have U.S. player in the Olympics. The return of NHL players to the Olympics in 2026 will be a boon for ratings, especially with TNT and ESPN owning the broadcasting rights. This extra boost might be needed,  as it stands this was the lowest-rated Olympics since 1988.