The 1998 Olympics were a defining moment for Radek Faksa.
Only four years old at the time, Faksa vividly remembers the Czech Republic defeating Canada 1-0 in the gold medal game. It was the first Olympics NHL players participated in and the Czechs relied heavily on the superb goaltending of Dominik Hasek.
“It was pretty much my first hockey memory,” Faksa said. “The Czech Republic won it and everyone celebrated in Czech and since that hockey grew up so much in Czech. I can’t even describe how big (of a) thing it was for us to win the Olympics. I was always telling to myself that I want to win gold for Olympics some day.”
Twenty years later, it doesn’t look like Faksa is going to get that chance after the NHL issued a press release on Monday stating it wouldn’t be taking a break or sending players to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
“It’s the biggest thing you can play for your country, so obviously it’s disappointing if you can’t go,” Faksa said.
Faksa is one of a handful of Dallas Stars who had a legitimate chance of playing for their respective country in the Olympics.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin would likely have been considered for Team Canada, Esa Lindell would have been a lock for the Finns, and John Klingberg would have gotten serious consideration from Team Sweden.
“I feel myself, (from a) young age, you grow up watching the Olympics, it’s a big thing in Sweden,” Klingberg said. “I’m disappointed. I would love to go and play … it’s sad for all the people who love hockey and watch it on TV.”
“At the same time you build hockey there,” Klingberg added. “And maybe you can see more Asian people play hockey. I think it’s a tough decision for a lot of Swedes, because the Olympics is a really big thing back home.”
Across the league players have shown disappointment with the decision, including Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith who had some pointed comments on Tuesday morning.
“We’re always talking about growing the game and there is no better way to grow the game than to play on the Olympic stage in a country that’s not known to hockey,” Smith, who won Olympic gold in 2014, said. “I don’t see why we’re taking this stand.”
“It’s something the commissioner is always talking about, growing the game, and I know they’re playing a (preseason) game in China next year,” Smith added. “And what better way to even promote that game to start with and to grow the game all over the world, I think that’s important. If the best players aren’t there it’s not going to be the same, that’s for sure.”
For the NHL there are pros and cons to Olympic participation and the cons ultimately won out.
The NHL is the only league that takes a two-week break for the Olympics (for a comparison the NBA doesn’t need to take a break for the summer Olympics), and owners don’t typically see any individual return from a business standpoint.
At the same time, the NHL is trying to push the World Cup of Hockey, which was held back in September and had a negative impact -- from an injury perspective -- on the Stars season.
So, could the World Cup serve as a suitable replacement?
“I don’t think so,” Jason Spezza said. “What makes the Olympics is going to the village and being a part of something bigger than you. I think World Cup is a great idea, I just don’t like what the World Cup did to this season. I could see why the NHL doesn’t want to interrupt our season, but the Olympics is pretty special to be apart of.”
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin didn't let Monday's announcement bother him. He told reporters he still plans to play for his native Russia, despite the league pulling out of the 2018 games.
Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter @SeanShapiro
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