The NHL and the NHL Players Association are meeting with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation today and tomorrow in New York to determine whether the league will allow its players to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
One person who doesn’t believe NHL players should take part in the Olympics is Capitals Coach Adam Oates, even though he understands how it can help promote hockey.
“You know what, I don’t. I don’t. My honest answer is no,” Oates said Wednesday to a small group of reporters in Tampa. “Is it good for hockey that they do it? Great. But I grew up trying to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, not Team Canada. Didn’t even know it existed.”
The first time NHL players participated in the Olympic tournament was 1998 in Nagano, Japan. Before then, participation was limited to amateurs.
As a player, Oates declined invitations to play for Team Canada because he wanted to focus on his NHL career. While he never felt compelled to play for the national team, Oates knows that representing one’s country means a lot to others, particularly European players.
“It’s different for the European guys because they grew up trying to play for their country, so it’s a different animal,” Oates said. “And I think that’s where they’re trying to balance it, too, and create more fans, et cetera.”
Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin has said repeatedly that he intends to play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, whether the NHL permits its players to take part or not. Washington owner Ted Leonsis has publicly supported Ovechkin’s stance, saying that the winger will have his permission to take part.
As a coach it’s not the two-week break that concerns Oates, but rather the possibility of injury.
“How do you feel if one of your players goes over and gets hurt?” Oates said. “It’s more devastating if one of your key players gets hurt.”