When the National Hockey League announced on April 3, 2017, that its players would not be allowed to participate in the 2018 Olympics, viewers were not amused.
The resulting event was called a “can-miss.” Some wondered who in their right mind would wake up in the early hours of the morning to watch what would essentially be teams of nobodies take the ice.
Now, with the Olympics having come and gone, it’s fair to say the competition was enjoyable in its own right.
Don’t get me wrong. It sucked seeing Canada not win what would’ve been its third consecutive gold medal. But when we put national bias aside, the tournament did more benefit to hockey than harm.
Take the enhanced unpredictability. For most international hockey tournaments, you don’t need a genius to tell you who is going to win. With the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews playing for Canada and Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin suiting up for Russia, you’re almost guaranteed a win for the beavers or the bears.
This time, although Canada was considered a favourite and the Olympic Athletes from Russia ultimately won the gold medal, it was difficult knowing for certain who would finish on top and who would be a flop.
Be honest. Did you think the Americans, finalists at two of the last four Olympics, would be eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic? Did you predict Germany, a team who had never medalled in hockey, would beat 2006 gold medallists Sweden and hockey powerhouse Canada en route to silver?
The absence of NHL players brought a sense of unpredictability and a belief among teams that anybody could go far; that you didn’t need to be a Canada or a Russia or a U.S.A. to have a chance.
It also increased the level of competitiveness. Without NHL players, there was a lack of stars. Everybody had some sort of label on them, from nonentity to wasted potential to has-been.
Everybody had something to prove, and this was their moment to prove it.
We may not have seen Stanley Cup-winning, multi-million-dollar-making players participate in what is basically a friendly tournament amid their 82-game NHL schedule. But what we did see was heart, determination, and a defiance of the odds among the athletes.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what the Olympics are all about?