The Importance of NHL’s Olympic Participation
On Wednesday, Feb 1, the National Hockey League and the Players’ Association in conjunction with the You Can Play Project launched the Hockey Is For Everyone campaign. Double G Sports’ Chip Gianni Jr. reported on the wonderful initiative early Thursday morning. So far, the Hockey community has already done a great job of supporting the cause of diversity in the game.
Harnarayan Singh joined the broadcast team of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi in 2008. He had been broadcasting games in the Punjabi language for eight years. He was the first person to broadcast hockey in Punjabi. Earlier this season, on November 30, 2016, Singh was rinkside at the Scotiabank Saddledome as the Calgary Flames hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. Singh appeared on the English broadcast throughout the game, making him the first Sikh to broadcast a sporting event in English.
Last summer, at the 2016 NHL Draft, Auston Matthews was chosen first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He becomes the first southwestern-American to be picked at that position. Matthews’ mother hails from Mexico, making him the first player of Hispanic descent to be drafted first overall.
On June 25, 2016, the Kontinental Hockey League announced a new franchise would join the league. HC Kunlan Red Star, who calls Beijing it’s home, is playing in its first season in the KHL. In August, Rudi Ying signed with the club, making him the first Chinese-born player to sign and play in the KHL.
On October 27, 2016, defenseman Zach Yuen scored the lone goal against Khabarovsk. Yuen is of Chinese-Canadian descent, making him the first Chinese player to score in league history.
At the 2015 NHL Draft, the New York Islanders drafted Andong Song, the first Chinese-born player to be drafted into the NHL. Song is developing with the Madison Capitols of the USHL. The. 6’1” defenseman has yet to record a point in 30 games. Scouts are unfortunately pessimistic regarding his potential success in making it to the NHL, but he only turned 20 on January 31.
With such a wonderful celebration of diversity in the game of hockey, it would be a shame if the NHL chooses not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. So far, no definitive decision has been made by the NHL. The International Olympic Committee has stated that it will not fund the players’ expenses to play. But, there is great opportunity to further grow the game in untapped markets, such as South Korea, by allowing NHL players to play in the Olympics. If the NHL is truly committed to growing the game and including everyone, it should put its money where its mouth is, bite the bullet, and send the NHL players to South Korea next winter.
Let’s be real here: does the NHL really care that much about its 3-on-3 All-Star Game format so much so that not having an All-Star Game in favor of the Olympics would be a travesty? Or is it really about ponying up the money for travel and insurance for NHL players?
I’m also not naïve to the risk of injuries players face playing in the Olympics as well. Isles’ John Tavares was shut down for the end of the 2013-14 season after suffering injury at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. But, players can get injured at any time during the regular season as well. Aside from competing for the Stanley Cup, there is no better feeling for a player than to represent his country and compete for Gold. Besides, Alexander Ovechkin already proclaimed that he will be in South Korea next winter and Caps’ owner Ted Leonsis says he supports Ovi’s decision to participate. If the NHL wants to truly grow the game and include everyone, it should support all the players and include them in the 2018 Olympics as they compete for Gold as well.
Time for a quick Sidney Crosby update: Sid “the kid” is just six points shy from 1,000 points. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be back in action Friday evening against the Columbus Blue Jackets for what should be a riveting Metropolitan Division showdown. Stay tuned!