If they can hold the World Cup of Hockey in the summer, why not Olympic hockey?
That’s what more than a few people are wondering as we approach the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea – with the glaring absence of the National Hockey League’s finest for the first time since 1994.
Sure, it would look a little odd if a bunch of guys were chasing pucks around in the middle of August, 2020 at Tokyo, Japan.
But it would only be a few weeks before past World Cups have started.
Resistance to stopping the NHL season for about two weeks grew stronger with the issues surrounding Korea, namely: The IOC didn’t want to pay for the travel and rooming expenses of players, the 14-hour time difference, the unstable political situation, the risk of injury to star players (which could happen anywhere) and, finally, stopping the schedule right in the middle of the season.
If they had scheduled these Games for New York, you can bet your bottom dollar all those just mentioned matters would have faded away.
However, in discussing any future Olympics, why not make the only debate moot by simply moving hockey to the Summer Games?
After all, the NBA is a winter sport and it plays in the Summer Olympics.
And, the caliber of hockey and the conditioning of players would not come into question because it’s become a 50-week sport. Any player who allows himself to fall out of shape in the summer isn’t going to last long in today’s NHL.
Of course, this controversy is a much more hot-button topic in Europe than North America.
Here, the Stanley Cup is the Holy Grail. It’s also important to Euro players but some, like Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, would tell you an Olympic gold medal is right up with the highest honors.
The Flyers’ Jake Voracek also has been outspoken with his criticism of the NHL’s pulling out of the Olympics.
And after some cajoling by a reporter, the Czech Republic native finally came around to the thinking that participation in the Summer Olympics might be better than no participation at all.
Besides, who cares if the players show up on the ice with suntans and an extra few pounds?
“It (the Olympics) is the biggest (venue) in the sport there is,’’ Voracek was saying in the Flyers’ locker room at the Skate Zone in Voorhees the other day. “It just sucks when a couple guys decided (against playing).
“It’s something we love, to play for our country, and you’re not able to go. It’s tough. We want to go but we can’t.’’
At first, Voracek resisted the notion of the Summer Games.
“Hockey is a winter sport,’’ he insisted. “It wasn’t a problem for the last five Olympics (going back to Nagano in 1998). I don’t know if it (summer hockey) would work.’’
The idea of not breaking up the season would knock down the barrier created by the NHL team owners.
Finally, Voracek was asked point-blank, yes or no, would he play in the Olympics if hockey were moved to the summer?
“If they moved it to the summer and I was to get invited, obviously, I would do it,’’ he said. “A hundred percent.’’
Does he think enough NHL players would follow him to Japan in the middle of August?
“I think so,’’ he said. “It’s the Olympics. It would be different. It’s hard to say because it’s never been done.’’
Voracek pointed out that players get a five-day “bye week’’ and four more for the All-Star break.
But those nine days wouldn’t be nearly enough, given the gigantic travel time (14 hours each way) to Tokyo, plus jet lag.
“It’s something to consider,’’ Voracek conceded.
It took awhile to accept radical changes in the game – like shootouts, no red line (two-line passes), three-on-three overtime and coaches’ challenges – but now they’re accepted as part of the game.
Give the Summer Olympics a one-time trial. I’m betting it will work.