Late Wednesday night into early Thursday morning, I sat at home in awe, risking the exhaustion at work the next day. I sat in awe as I watched the United States women’s hockey team tie the game late in the third period to force overtime against the all-powerful Canadian women’s team. The same Canadian team who had won four straight Olympic gold medals entering the 2018 games. As the clock reached one o’clock local time, the game went to overtime and eventually to a shootout. That is when a nation, who most were thought to be asleep, was very awake and wrapped up in a game happening thousands of miles away.
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson took a team, a fan base, and an entire country on her stick and (figuratively of course) undressed Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados with one of the prettiest shootout moves you’ll see, leading the United States to their first gold medal since 1998. For reference, I was 11 and in the sixth grade, but I digress. Now, this is not a recap of a monumental Olympic win for the United States, that’s just not my style. But, if you’ll follow me for the next few paragraphs, I’m going to put a pretty little bow on how that game, may have very well shoved a proverbial middle finger into the face of Gary Bettman and the NHL.
It took clicking the Twitter app for anyone to see how captivated the United States was, even at 2:00 a.m. on a work night. This nation craves hockey more than the ordinary person thinks. From the beer league level all the way to sold-out crowds at large scale arenas nationwide, this country has a fever for the game.
The prescription? (Because you all know I had to go there.)
Well, if you ask Gary Bettman and the NHL, it’s to leave their players out of the Olympics because it takes too much time away from the season. Heaven forbid the NHL loses money to let its athletes, who make them the money in the first place, play for their country. But Zach, don’t you think these guys are just doing it for the publicity, or the free vacation? Just ask Alex Ovechkin his thoughts.
More than just the NHL’ers, the opportunity for lower level athletes, to play for their country against the biggest names in the game, is a draw in and of itself. Henrik Odegaard, former Kansas City Mavericks defenseman, participated in the 2014 Sochi games for team Norway. Odegaard played Canada that year and went up against the best hockey players in the world. A moment, surely, he will never forget. These aren’t just special moments for players, but fans, nations, and people who may have never seen the game of hockey, being drawn into it due to love for country.
So where does the NHL go from here?
I think there is only one answer; they need to swallow their pride and allow their world-class athletes, to show it on a global scale. Why not let the best athletes at their sport showcase their talents? Why hold something so special away from athletes who want to put on a display for their country? Money drives everything, time equals money but in this instance, giving up the time will make money. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when T.J. Oshie did his best Captain America impression in a shootout against Russia, Oshie’s jersey went from 18th in sales to 2nd after the Olympics, only behind Sidney Crosby. The Olympics made money, the teams made money, and I’m sure Oshie made money. And the fans? The fans had a new hero, a player, and performance they’d never forget.
The solution seems simple, and it may be. But one thing is for sure; the NHL must have a serious look about allowing their players to participate in the next Winter Olympics. Because after all, the women had the best in the world playing for them, and after the display the other night, who wouldn’t want to see that twice every Olympics? Well, Gary Bettman is one, but then again, why would he want his players names to be the one trending on Twitter at 2:00 a.m? Because it loses him money, and that’s a shame.
Bringing this full circle, Bettman has a golden opportunity to revitalize the men’s team and put his players at the forefront of the world stage. If not, that’s okay. The women did a perfect job of showing everyone what great hockey looks like!