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NHL stars steadfast in competing at Olympics

By
Dennis Bernstein, The Sports Xchange
Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid was unyielding in his thoughts about participation in the Olympics. One-hundred percent, NHL players should be there, McDavid said. I can't imagine the Olympics without our participation. File Photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI
Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid was unyielding in his thoughts about participation in the Olympics. "One-hundred percent, NHL players should be there," McDavid said. "I can't imagine the Olympics without our participation." File Photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES -- As the NHL closes the book on the most successful NHL All-Star weekend in recent memory, its attention turns to the next major event on the horizon, the league's participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The NHL players participation is routinely a contentious issue between three bodies -- the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the league. Commissioner Gary Bettman has been steadfast on the league's position that the IIHF must bear the costs of transporting the teams to Pyeongchang, South Korea, the site of the 2018 Games.

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Even with the recent news from Rene Fasel, the president of the IIHF, that funds have been secured to defer the league's costs, Bettman stated during the All-Star weekend that funding alone was not a singular issue, citing the disruption of the league schedule to accommodate the Olympics as an additional major concern.

If the players had the final decision on attending the Olympics, no doubt the answer would be a resounding "yes" if the responses gathered during All-Star weekend are a fair representation of the rank and file of the NHL Players Association.

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One of the highest profile players in the game, Edmonton's Connor McDavid, was unyielding in his thoughts about participation. Only 20 years old, McDavid is a veteran of international competition through his junior years in Canada. Next year's games would be his Olympic debut, an opportunity he does not want to be taken away by politics and finances.

"One-hundred percent, NHL players should be there," McDavid said. "I can't imagine the Olympics without our participation."

San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, a two-time Olympic participant, is optimistic that an agreement can be reached so he can represent the United States again. He concurs that a large majority of players want to go and looks forward to possibly facing McDavid in a potential gold medal matchup down the road.

"I think everyone wants to go, it's just a cool event," said Pavelski. "It's certainly a more competitive and longer event than the All-Star Game. It's so special to be selected to play for your country in that type of setting, everyone hopes it works out."

Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar notes that the willingness to compete is not limited to just North American players. He represented his home country of Slovenia in the Cinderella story of the last tournament and looks forward doing so again.

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"It would be awesome for me to go," Kopitar said via text. "It would be honor to represent my country again. I had a blast in Sochi and I assume these Games would be equally enjoyable."

Anaheim's Cam Fowler, a veteran of the 2014 Games, agrees with his brethren that at this juncture the Olympics are more important to the players than the owners.

"I would assume that most guys would want to play, the Olympics is the greatest sporting event in the world," said Fowler. "Not many people can say they had the opportunity to participate in the Games. I think if you asked most, they would want to go but we know there are other factors that come into play. I know the final decision is out of the players' control, but I think most would love to go and represent their country."

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