Because Olympic Games enthusiasts consider ice hockey such a winter sport, why in the name of Frank Zamboni would you want to play for a gold medal in the middle of a sweltering summer?
Well, good question. One with several legitimate answers.
First and foremost, due to various circumstances, the past two tournaments in Korea and China were held without the most accomplished players in the world, namely those from the National Hockey League.
While it is quite honorable to have mainly up-and-coming talents compete in a setting much like the USA miracle triumphs at Squaw Valley in 1960 and Lake Placid in 1980, it appears many fans have moved past that concept and want to see the best vs. best.
Some might say that’s a bit old hat: Canada’s Sidney Crosby vs. USA’s Patrick Kane vs. Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin and so forth. We get those matchups on television probably every week or so.
But don’t think for a moment NBC would rather have college kids knocking pucks around in prime time than household NHL names. The ratings for the 2022 Beijing Games verify that.
The thing is, the NHL doesn’t want to pause its season for the better part of three weeks to accommodate the Olympians. The break really does nothing to market their product.
So what might be one solution? Move ice hockey to the summer. You know, the Summer Olympics where that other “winter’’ sport, basketball, holds its tournament complete with NBA players.
Since hockey is played indoors, what difference would it make?
Remember, in the 2020 summer of the pandemic crisis, the NHL restarted its season in late July in a Toronto bubble. So there is a precedent.
The Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk, who competed for Team USA in the 2014 Games at Sochi, Russia, sees merit in both sides of the debate.
No doubt it was difficult for JVR and his ex-USA NHL brethren to sit and watch the young Americans fail to medal for a third straight Olympics. The United States hasn’t hit the podium since a silver medal at Vancouver in 2010.
“It did give other guys a unique opportunity to go over there and play a little bit, some of the younger players,’’ van Riemsdyk said at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey the other day. “That’s kind of cool to see, I think. You see some guys kind of making a name for themselves. I think it’s helped springboard a couple young guys into NHL careers, too.’’
USA lost in a shootout to Slovakia in the quarterfinals, this after going undefeated in Group A preliminary round competition.
It might have been a much different story if America’s best were out there.
“Ultimately, those best-on-best tournaments. . .we should have a way to do some more of that stuff,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “Whether it’s Olympics or World Cup. If there’s more consistency to it, it’s a lot of fun for anyone who loves the game to watch, just seeing how those games can play out. Hopefully there’s a chance we see more of that.’’
The idea of playing Olympic hockey in the summer isn’t new. It’s been bandied about for years. It’s probably too late to make the switch to the 2024 Games in Paris but what about 2028 in Los Angeles?
Van Riemsdyk said the players would gladly get back into shape after the Stanley Cup ended in June for a chance to represent their countries.
“Guys would make it work,’’ JVR predicted. “Guys want to go, it’s a great honor to go to that tournament. Who knows? There’s got to be solutions to figure it out. I’m sure there’s a way to make it all work.’’
Why not give it a try? You wouldn’t have to twist the owners’ arms. And the players already have their sunscreen packed for tournament off-days, just in case.
>Hayes future uncertain
As much as the Flyers would like to get center Kevin Hayes (core injury) back in the lineup, there still has to be a decision made on whether a potential season-ending fourth surgery on his core region might be best for his long-term career interests.
It’s a tough call but ultimately it’s Hayes’ to make. He’s still potentially under contract with the Flyers through the 2025-26 season and it’s a safe bet the team doesn’t want to jeopardize his future just to get him playing in what has amounted to a lost season.
“He’s getting close,’’ interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “I think there’s a good chance we could see Kevin in the lineup (this week). There was a real positive MRI (magnetic resonance image), a real positive doctor’s appointment. They gave us some good news.’’
The thing is, doctors thought the first couple surgeries should have straightened out the problem and there’s no guarantee another operation will put an end to the uncertainty.
Yeo said Hayes has more pace and jump in practice, compared to when he was in the lineup a while back.
“We want to be careful here,’’ Yeo said. “We want to put him in a good position. If he is going to return to play, we want to make sure that he’s fully ready.’’
The coach knows a player’s overall health is a delicate situation.
“There has been concern where players have surgeries, they can cause lifelong problems and hinder things going forward as well,’’ Yeo said. “I know Hayes is approaching this as carefully as he possibly can, getting all the advice from multiple people, resources. One hundred percent he’s committed to the organization long-term. He’s not going to jeopardize that just by playing a few games this year.’’
The Flyers feel pretty much the same way.
“It hurts for him not being the lineup,’’ Yeo said. “But having the conversations I’ve had, he doesn’t want to jeopardize next year. At the same time, people are telling him maybe he doesn’t need surgery. Maybe coming back and playing is going to help him more next year. He might follow that advice as well.’’