US Hockey needs NHL at Olympics

Jacob Clanton, Print Editor-in-Chief

Growing up, I have loved watching the Olympics. It is an absolute joy to watch insanely good athletes compete on the world’s largest stage.

I’m not your typical kid when it comes to Olympic sports though. While all the individual sports are cool, I love watching basketball in the summer and hockey in the winter. This love of team sports comes from my years of playing basketball.

Of course, it helps that the United States typically succeeds in these sports. Throughout the time I’ve paid attention to the Olympics, the US has always dominated men’s and women’s basketball, winning gold the last three times. The women’s hockey team has been similar, winning a medal every year of competition.

The men’s hockey team, on the other hand, has struggled. The US has won just two gold medals in its history: 1960 in Squaw Valley, California, and 1980 in Lake Placid, New York (Miracle on Ice). After 1980, it took the US 22 years to place again (silver, Salt Lake City). However, including 2002, the US men have performed quite well at the Olympics this century, winning two silver medals and coming close to medaling in 2014.

A key to the recent success has been the use of players from the National Hockey League, the world’s top hockey league. Since 1998, they have been competing in the Olympics, truly representing the best of the best.

Until this year, that is. Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, announced that NHL players were banned from participating in the Olympics this year, citing injury concerns and the disruptive nature of a mid-season tournament.

This left the Americans struggling to find high-caliber players, resulting in a seventh-place finish in the games. Not great for the US. Though USA Hockey found many quality players, they weren’t at a high enough caliber to compete with Russia or the Czech Republic.

Instead of waiting around for a miracle to win gold, USA Hockey should work with the NHL and find a solution, allowing NHL players to participate in the Olympics. Without NHL players, the entire Olympic tournament suffers.

Granted, the NHL has semi-valid reasons to prohibit players from participating. Unlike basketball, the Winter Olympics happens mid-season for hockey. Many leagues around the world take an extended break, giving players the opportunity to represent their home countries.

However, that’s not the American way. In a society motivated by the bottom dollar, taking a break from playing games results in a loss of revenue, especially when the break comes during a dead time in American sports.

Plus, there is the threat of injuries. In the past, the International Olympic Committee has paid for insurance and travel costs for NHL players. This was removed from the table this year, causing NHL owners worry. They found no other solution good enough for them, instead pushing the league to prohibit players from the games.

That being said, neither of these reasons should be enough to keep the NHL out of the Olympics. The Olympics are a great time to broaden the spread of hockey, as basketball has shown. Plus, NHL players either get rest or the opportunity to represent their country. I’m sure most players would jump at either chance.

Here’s hoping that the NHL sees the value of its players participating in the Olympic Games, prompting a change of heart for Tokyo.