NEW YORK — During the NHL’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1, the roster for the U.S. 2018 Winter Olympics men’s hockey team will be announced. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name will not be on it, because the NHL has forbidden it.
“I wish we were going. It still kills me that we’re not,” said the New York Rangers defenseman, who represented the U.S. in the 2014 Sochi Games.
The NHL announced in April that it would not participate in the Olympics after sending its players to each Winter Games hockey tournament since 1998. This was due to a financial dispute with the IOC, a lack of interest in Pyeongchang as a hockey market, and the League’s inability to leverage collective bargaining concessions from the NHLPA. As a result, any player with an NHL contract was prohibited from representing their country. Instead, the Team USA roster announced on Jan. 1 will be a collection of minor league players, college players and American players competing in international pro leagues.
This decision may have impacted Team USA more than anyone. A new generation of exceptional offensive players — like reigning rookie of the year Auston Matthews and Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel — was set to represent its nation for the first time on the Olympic stage.
“Every kid dreams about trying to play in the Olympics. I’m the same way,” said Eichel on Sunday, before his Sabres take on the New York Rangers at Citi Field. “Obviously when we found out we were not going to be able to play in the Olympics, it’s tough. Not just for me, but for a lot of guys that had opportunities that are getting to the end of their careers. It only happens every four years. I think it’s something that players really wanted to do, but we couldn’t find a way to make it work.”
For the American players who won’t be in the Olympics, the last few months have seen them work through their emotions about the League’s decision.
“I think until those Olympics start, you’re going to feel a ‘wish you were there’ kind of thing,” said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who also played in Sochi. “I was able to participate in one, but you only play this game for so long. To have a chance to participate in another one, represent your country, that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
“Every kid dreams about trying to play in the Olympics. I’m the same way. Obviously when we found out we were not going to be able to play in the Olympics, it’s tough. Not just for me, but for a lot of guys that had opportunities that are getting to the end of their careers.”
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel
The honor of representing one’s country is, in the end, the prevailing thought from these American NHL players. They know several of the players that will be on the Team USA roster; and rather than treat them as “scabs” or hold any ill will against USA Hockey, they said they’re pulling for them.
“I have a lot of friends playing overseas that will probably be named. I’m happy that they’re getting the chance to do this,” said Shattenkirk, whose Boston University teammate Matt Gilroy is expected to be one of those selected. “This is giving guys an opportunity to go that would have never had one anyway. I hope they go over there and do well.”
And for a player like Eichel, who turned 21 in October, there’s always the possibility the NHL returns to the Olympics for the Beijing Games in 2022. “It’s something that I’ve moved on from,” he said. “I know some [players] that hopefully get the opportunity to play for the United States. I’ll be following it and rooting for them.”