SBD/February 17, 2014/Olympics

U.S.-Russia Thriller Heats Up NHL Participation Debate, Draws Attention To Hockey

Russia and the U.S. could meet again in a medal-round game
The U.S.' 3-2 shootout win over Russia Saturday was a "gripping affair that was a powerful advertisement for keeping NHL stars in the Games," according to Jerry Sullivan of the BUFFALO NEWS. The "real winner" of the game was "hockey itself." If you "take away the politics and nationalism and the controversy," the game was a "wonderful, transporting moment for international hockey fans, who can celebrate a day that illuminated the best in their sport" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/16). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote the game was "nothing close to a miracle -- just a jewel of a hockey game between two evenly matched opponents who both have an eye on winning medals." If the NHL is "seriously considering yanking their players from further Olympic competitions, it should take a second look at the tape of this game and seriously reconsider" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/16). In DC, Mike Wise wrote, "The fervent pride and purpose both teams showed and played with ... should convince NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his owners: It won’t financially ruin your product if you give your players two weeks off every four years" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/16). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote Olympic participation is "a halo product" for the NHL, as playing in the Games "remains a dream for its best players." The players "want to be there," and the fans "consider these games must-see television." Shinzawa: "At odd hours, in our slippers and sweatpants, we watch and cheer and marvel. It’s a nice ritual to have every four years" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/16).

LIVING UP TO THE HYPE: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins asked, "How often does a game that’s smothered in hype actually exceed our expectations? This one did" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/16). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "That was the best Saturday morning hockey game I’ve ever seen. ... What this was, was why we’re supposedly here today, we love sports" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/16). In N.Y., Filip Bondy wrote the game "really was something, and it was just the appetizer, a first-round tease." The result "almost didn’t matter" because both teams "may well meet again" in the Gold Medal game (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/16). NBC’s David Gregory said, “This moment of patriotism comes at a time when this sensitivity between Russian and the United States is real." Gregory: “At a time of reset with our relationship with Russia, what played out there was a genuine moment of, we triumphed over the Russians” ("Meet The Press," NBC, 2/16). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey wrote, "This was the United States, this was Russian soil and this sure felt like a lot more than an Olympic hockey game." But he added, "Let’s just say it was a hellacious hockey game and leave the sociopolitical undertones to somebody else, OK?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/16).

END OF AN ERA? CBS' Mark Phillips notes having NHL players at every Winter Games since '98 has "sprinkled star dust on Olympic hockey," but the future of "top-flight hockey at the Games is in serious doubt." The players "want to be here" and fans "want them to be here." However, for NHL team owners, "giving away their top stars and risking them for no immediate payback is a tough ask." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week said the league hopes to decide within six months about its participation in the '18 Pyeongchang Games, nothing there is "nothing in it from a business perspective" for the league. Phillips added, "In fact, there's a business disincentive. In the thick of the NHL season, the league has to shutdown. ... In some markets, it's tough getting the people back" ("CBS This Morning," CBS, 2/17). In Chicago, Mark Lazerus wrote under the header, "Should NHL Continue To Send Players To Olympics?" and noted it seems "increasingly likely that this is the last hurrah for the NHL and the Olympics." Canada C John Tavares said, "I would love another chance, I'll tell you that. ... Certainly there are some tough challenges with it -- being involved with the (NHLPA) as much as I have, I know this wasn’t an easy process. But we feel as players, it’s important and we love to play, we love to represent our countries." However, Lazerus noted Red Wings and Sweden LW Henrik Zetterberg is "lost for the tournament and possibly much longer after reinjuring a chronic disk problem either in or after the opening game of the Olympics." The Red Wings currently hold the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference and Lazerus asked, "Is it worth the risk to them? Is it worth the risk to any team?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/15).
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