Olympic hockey is unrivaled excitement

Sam Arslanian | Daily Trojan

Growing up in the frigid state of Michigan, hockey was an integral part of my life as a young athlete.

I took my first steps onto the ice when I was six years old, and believe me, they were not voluntary. I vividly remember resisting my father as he pushed me out onto the ice. Despite my initial intense passion to avoid the ice, I grew to love the game of hockey — as do most Michiganders.

Hockey is a significant part of the mitten state’s sports culture. There are universities in the middle of nowhere in Michigan with hockey as their one and only D-I sport — and they are really, really good. It also helps that we have (well, had) a darn good hockey team. The Detroit Red Wings’ 25-year postseason appearance streak in which they won four Stanley Cup Championships made it extremely easy to be a Detroit hockey fan.

Professional hockey is exciting, but that excitement is unrivaled by Olympic hockey. With the NHL, fans are divided among their respective teams. I have to share an office with an Anaheim Ducks fan. We are pretty good friends, but I guarantee if our respective teams met in the Stanley Cup Championships, we would become mortal enemies for the seven-game series.

Sports rivalries are fun. However, the Olympics brings everyone together to root for one collective team. It’s a beautiful thing.

My freshman year of high school I remember sitting in class anxiously watching the USA women’s hockey team go for the gold on the school projector. The experience was wonderful. Thirty of my fellow peers (some not even hockey fans) and I watched the team compete. The Olympic platform brought us together to root for one organization. USA ended up taking home the silver medal, but that game remains one of my favorite sporting events.

I have really mixed feelings this year. The International Olympic Committee announced that they would no longer cover the costs of travel, insurance, accommodations and other costs for NHL players. The NHL and IOC were unable to come to terms regarding these costs and thus the NHL had to pull their athletes from competing in the 2018 games.

The world’s best hockey players come to America and Canada to compete in the NHL. Not having NHL players compete in the Olympics just isn’t good for the sport. There are very few people who think this was the right decision. The NHL players want to represent their respective countries and compete for a world championship. They should not be deprived of that opportunity.

“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s short-sighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics,” the NHL Players’ Association said in a Twitter statement last April. “NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”

However, there is a silver lining. Without the participation of the many Olympic athletes from the NHL, the USA hockey team is desperate for players. This forces them to look toward college and amateur players. What a stage for up-and-coming players. It is difficult to break into the professional hockey scene, and PyeongChang could make a name for a lot of young athletes.

There is something to be said for amateur athletes who make it to a big stage. There is some type of magic that seemingly propels them to accomplish the impossible. Think about New York Yankees All-Star Aaron Judge. Judge was a very average player in the minors, but when he came to the major league, he blew up. Rookies and amateurs take advantage of their opportunity.

Regardless, it won’t be an easy run for the U.S. team. Lacking players in the likes of Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane makes it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to win gold.

All hope is not lost for the American hockey team. Perhaps the greatest hockey game in history, “Miracle on Ice” took place with a hodge podge team lacking NHL players. USA entered the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. with a ragtag team. Defying all odds, the team made it to the medal round and defeated a seemingly unstoppable Soviet Union squad.

It’s going to be an interesting Olympic games for the sport of hockey, but I’m hopeful for a young and hungry Team USA. To the team, in the famous words of coach Herb Brooks, “This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”

Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Mondays.