Heavy Penguins presence at Olympics ruined by COVID-19

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

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Ice hockey has long been an event included in the Winter Olympics. The inclusion of NHL players in Olympic hockey starting back in 1998 has made it one of the more enjoyable events to watch.

Things weren’t quite the same in 2018 games, when NHL players were not permitted to play in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, young junior players like Troy Terry, Jordan Greenway, and Ryan Donato teaming up with former NHL vets like Noah Welch and Brian Gionta for Team USA did make for a cool mix of players.

For the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, NHL stars like Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, and Adam Fox were set to don the red, white, and blue for Team USA.  This would have made it very easy to get behind the Americans for the upcoming event.

Not to mention that Penguins' head coach, Mike Sullivan, was going to be behind the bench leading on the Americans. It’s not like he has ever led his teams to important wins or anything, right? Oh, yeah, and leading Penguin goal scorer ,Jake Guentzel, seemed like a prime candidate for a spot as a USA winger, too.

So we'd have a heavy Penguins presence on Team USA, plus NHL players participating for the first time since 2014? That sounds like a very root-able team to me.

Then shift your focus to Team Canada, the premiere country when it comes to hockey. Canada would have featured Sidney Crosby, likely captaining the team, in what could be his final chance to participate in the winter games.   Take a moment to picture Sidney Crosby playing on the same team as Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon. They’d be on the same power play together staring down opposing goaltenders.  Imagine those three playing on a line together, even for a period, against an inferior hockey country like China or Austria. The amount of goals likely to be scored would be humiliating.

Most of Team Canada's forwards would be first liners on NHL hockey teams.  Meanwhile, Marc Andre Fleury, likely the Canadian starting goaltender, is still playing at a high level as well.

Even when Crosby’s “Golden Goal” beat Team USA back in 2010 in Vancouver, it was hard to be upset in that moment.  Sure, Team USA took a tough defeat but it was at the hands of the most decorated Penguin in history, not named Mario Lemieux. It was the ultimate bittersweet moment. Crosby followed that up with another gold medal in Sochi in 2014.

Other Penguins primed for Olympic play were Evgeni Malkin for Russia. Teddy Blueger for the Latvian National Team, and Kasperi Kapanen would have likely played for the Finnish squad. Kris Letang (Canada) and Bryan Rust (USA) had outside chances of being named to their respective country’s rosters as well.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, and all NHLers alike, COVID-19 is spreading like wild fire again and it is causing league-wide postponements. The Penguins have been fortunate so far, despite an early season COVID outbreak, but even they began their holiday break a bit early as the league agreed to shut down team facilities until December 26th. Play will resume December 27th if teams can provide the required amount of negative tests.

The NHL was originally set to take an Olympic break which would’ve seen the Penguins inactive from February 2nd until February 24th when they’d return to play against the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately now, with a plethora of games being postponed in the past week, many of those games will be rescheduled during what would have been the break for the Olympics.  Due to these circumstances, the NHL has made the decision to not allow their players to play in the upcoming Winter Games.

Fortunately enough for those not named Crosby and Malkin, they’re young enough to continue to play their way into future Olympic rosters as the NHL is still committed to allowing players to go participate in the 2026 Olympic Games.  However, it’s quite possible that Crosby and Malkin won’t be playing another Olympics for their respective countries and the reasoning for it is obviously out of their control.

My heart goes out to all the players devastated by the NHL’s decision to keep their players from going to the Olympic Games in 2022. It’s certainly an honor to have the opportunity to represent your country in those games and it’s been taken from them for something out of their control.  Plus, the amount of Penguin players fans would have been able to enjoy in the upcoming Olympics would have made for some great Pittsburgh viewing.  It's a shame, but it's the world we live in right now.  Another event ruined by Covid.