2001-12-29 / Sports

End the Olympic Experiment

By Branimir Vukadin

By Branimir Vukadin

The N.H.L. once had a great idea to showcase their game: allowing their players to take part in the Winter Olympics. The thinking was, by putting the best talent together in international play, in such a widespread forum, would show hockey as it should be: a fast-paced, offensive-minded game, spreading the game to new audiences. However, that plan failed miserably. The U.S. team, heavily favored in the beginning, flopped, and disgraced the league with a hotel room trashing for which no blame was ever placed. The Canadian team, with Wayne Gretzky playing for the one laurel ever to escape him, lost to the Czech Republic in a shootout, an absolutely ridiculous way to end a game. The final disgrace was how little anyone seemed to care; the games were rarely broadcast, and if they were on television, it was on at 3:30 in the morning. Things don’t look much different this time. The N.H.L. should just realize that the Olympic Experiment is a failure, and end it before they disgrace the game again.

There is already controversy swirling about the tournament, 3 months before the games begin. There are six teams prequalifed to the medal round which is the N.H.L. has scheduled as their Olympic break. However, there is a qualifying round that takes place before the medal round, one week before the medal round. Players from the countries that need to qualify are being barred from participating in this round. This has upset several players from these countries, such as Buffalo’s Miroslav Satan, who wish to represent their country. Many of these players have suggested that a double standard is being applied; they say that if the U.S. or Canada needed to qualify, that there would be no question to whether the players would be allowed to leave.

Furthermore, the teams who are guaranteed spots are having roster issues of their own. Some players feel as if they are being forced to choose between their teams and their countries, and are having difficulty making that choice. Colorado’s Patrick Roy, perhaps the greatest goaltender of all time, has already chosen to not participate in the games, feeling he owes more to his team than to his country. He has been branded a traitor in Canada, where hockey is life, and he is not the only player who feels torn between the quest for the Cup and the need for Olympic gold.

Finally, there is no guarantee that the coverage of the Olympics will be any different than last time. All this means nothing if the games aren’t properly promoted. If the same attention is paid to the games as last time in 1998, then this is all for nothing. The N.H.L. needs to look for new avenues of promotion for hockey, not continue to return to methods proven to fail. If this is the best the league has to offer, then they should just let the amateurs play, and stop wasting their players time.

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