Olympics might have seen last of NHL player participation

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SOCHI, Russia — Steve Yzerman was stuck in an elevator while the maple leaf flag was raised to the Bolshoy Ice Dome rafters Sunday.

Canada's men's hockey team, loaded with many of the best players in the NHL, tookthe gold medal in Sochi. The league is seriously considering abandoning the Olympics.  MARK HUMPHREY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARK HUMPHREY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Canada's men's hockey team, loaded with many of the best players in the NHL, tookthe gold medal in Sochi. The league is seriously considering abandoning the Olympics.

The architect of Canada’s dominant Olympic hockey team was disappointed to miss that magic moment after the team’s unbeaten run through the Sochi Games to its second consecutive gold medal.

And though he’s stepping down as Hockey Canada’s Olympic executive director, Yzerman hopes he didn’t miss his last chance to see the world’s best players rewarded with gold.

“It’s my opinion that this is great for hockey,” Yzerman said. “We’re trying to grow our sport. The Olympics is the biggest stage worldwide, for any sport. I’m hopeful that the NHL stays. I recognize there are a lot of issues, but I think this is tremendous for our game, and I believe it’s tremendous for the National Hockey League.”

The NHL is thinking seriously about abandoning the Olympics, which has played host to the world’s best since 1998. For all the excitement, attention and phenomenal hockey in Sochi, several owners still seethe at their multimillion-dollar investments playing for free – and sometimes getting injured – while their arenas sit empty for three weeks in February.

The league and players’ union are working to stage a hockey World Cup in 2015, possibly lessening the impact. But most players believe nothing can replace the Olympics, and Canada’s dominant performance was just the headline of an outstanding 12-day story in Sochi.

The Canadians were unshakably brilliant. The Russians flopped under enormous expectations. The U.S. team soared and crashed.

And while Canada skated away with gold in a 3-0 victory over Sweden on Sunday, nobody in a maple leaf was voted the tournament’s MVP. That honor went to Teemu Selanne, the 43-year-old Finn who scored four goals in his record-tying sixth Olympics, captaining Finland to a bronze medal with two goals against the Americans.

FIVE THINGS TO REMEMBER

SOCHI’S BEST DAY: The biggest games were nearly devoid of drama. Canada never even trailed, but the United States’ shootout victory over Russia is likely to be the best-remembered game. The home team’s heartbreak was compounded by a disallowed goal because the net was dislodged.

TEEMU FOREVER: After extending his own Olympic scoring record and winning his fourth medal, Selanne insists he’s done when the NHL season concludes. He’s threatened to retire for years. “We’ll see,” teammate Jussi Jokinen said.

LIVE UNDERDOGS: Slovenia hoped not to get embarrassed, but the team with just one NHL player – Kings star Anze Kopitar – beat Slovakia and Austria on its way to the quarterfinals. Latvia also earned its first Olympic victory in 12 years.

INJURIES ABOUND: Distance, time zones and lost revenue are obvious obstacles to the NHL’s participation in 2018, but the spate of significant injuries in Sochi won’t ease the owners’ minds, either.

GOOD TIMES: Every future Winter Olympics will have difficulty matching the setup in Sochi, where organizers built five sparkling NHL-caliber rinks within 500 yards of each other. For all the pre-Olympics worries about safety and distance, Sochi will be remembered fondly by almost everybody who laced up.

– Associated Press


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