NHL players will be lacing them up for their respective countries at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February after the league and the IIHF were able to complete a deal yesterday.
One of the big sticking points was being able to withdraw over COVID-19 concerns, but with that ironed out, hockey fans will get to see the first best-on-best Olympic tournament since Sochi, Russia in 2014, which saw Canada bring home gold for the 3rd time since the turn of the century.
It will mark the Olympic debut of Connor McDavid, who was denied a chance to represent Canada at the last Olympics in 2018 when the NHL chose not to allow players to participate in the games. Despite a lineup that was nowhere near the best this country had to offer, Canada came home with the bronze medal in PyongChang, South Korea.
The league will put the season on hold from Feb 3-22, and will include the NHL All Star weekend in that break, which is being held in Las Vegas this season.
Former Canucks G Ryan Miller, who was in goal for the USA in the OT loss to Canada in the 2010 gold medal game in Rogers Arena, was named as an assistant coach to the American squad for the games.
It will be a few weeks before we know the lineups for the various teams, but we could see a number of Canucks representing their respective countries in Beijing.
There’s the obvious choices, like Elias Pettersson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for Sweden, or Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser for Team USA, but you can’t rule out some interesting choices like Thatcher Demko and JT Miller (USA), Nils Hoglander (Sweden), Olli Juolevi (Finland) and Bo Horvat (Canada). Horvat would be a genuine surprise, though as Team Canada’s depth down the middle is incredible. Barring injuries, or a move to the wing, it’s unlikely we see Horvat going.
There’s also Vasily Podkolzin, who has a fair bit of international experience representing the Russians. He’s appeared in the World Junior Championships three times, and was an absolute force in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, potting eight goals in five games, including a hat trick against Team USA in the bronze medal game.
In other news, the NHL released the full COVID-19 protocol for the upcoming season. One new addition to the rules, is giving the teams the power to suspend unvaccinated players who become unable to participate either because of the protocol parameters, or local/regional health protocols. The league can also suspend unvaccinated players who test positive, while vaccinated players who test positive or have to quarantine because of exposure will be treated as a hockey-related injury.
The number of players who have been vaccinated is thought to be around 95%, and the new protocols should encourage most of those holding out to get it done. There will be resisters of course, and we saw the first instance of that yesterday, as the San Jose Sharks announced they were releasing Assistant Coach Rocky Thompson is leaving the team due to a medical exemption which keeps him from being able to be vaccinated.