Luongo, Barkov were once Olympians, now ‘it feels weird’ without NHL participating
By MATTHEW DEFRANKS | Sun Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 12, 2018
Roberto Luongo thinks about the cafeteria, sitting next to athletes from different countries playing different sports with different backgrounds in the same place. Aleksander Barkov thinks about the rings, the five interlocking circles that represent the pinnacle of global athletics.
For them, playing in the Olympics was more than playing in the Olympics. It was the Olympic Village. It was the pageantry of the flags and the majesty of the torch. It was a career highlight to the pair of Florida Panthers stars. It just won’t be this year.
For this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the NHL did not allow its players to participate, the first time since the 1994 games that it’s done so. The decision prevented a lengthy break in the middle of the season, but also stripped opportunities from some players who may have represented their countries.
The men’s hockey schedule begins Wednesday with the preliminary round.
Barkov would have anchored Finland’s lineup. Vincent Trocheck likely would have made the United States’ team. Evgenii Dadonov could have cracked Russia’s roster and Denis Malgin would have probably made Switzerland’s team. Mike Matheson had an outside shot at making Team Canada.
Luongo has been to three Olympic Games, first in Torino in 2006, then in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. At 38 years old, he likely would not have factored into this year’s Canadian team, with Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Matt Murray and Corey Crawford serving as better goaltending options.
“You want to have the best athletes compete in every sport,” Luongo said. “Personally, I feel that NHL players should be allowed to go, but that’s a decision that needs to be made with the NHL and the NHLPA.”
Luongo won two goal medals in 2010 and 2014, and suffered a quarterfinal loss in 2006. (“The first one we don’t talk about anymore because we didn’t win,” Luongo said.) Only three Canadian goalies have played in more games at the Olympics than Luongo’s eight.
“It’s funny, I was just telling my wife this morning that it feels weird not being part of it,” Luongo said. “Such fun times for me.”
Barkov is the only other Panthers player to play in the Olympics, his only appearance coming as an 18-year-old in 2014. He only played in two games because of an injury and Finland claimed a bronze medal, but his on-ice results didn’t ruin his Olympic experience.
“It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in hockey and in my life too,” Barkov said. “Just to be there, just to feel that atmosphere, see those Olympic rings and the fire and everything. I was living the dream. Of course, right now, I think everybody would have loved to be there. Just didn’t work out, so it’s fine. It was a pretty special thing for me.”
In April, the NHL officially announced that it would not be sending its players to Pyeongchang, saying that “the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players,” but it tried to find a solution. It didn’t.
Barkov said he couldn’t believe the ruling, and thought something would get worked out, especially with high-profile stars like Alex Ovechkin saying that he would still attend the games. He held out hope.
For Trocheck, the thinking was a little bit different. He wasn’t a first-round draft pick or a teenage phenom like Barkov was, so the chances he’d make an Olympic roster failed to cross his mind. The decision was out of his control, so he chose not to stress about it. But when reality sunk it, he thought about it a little more.
Lack of NHL stars means chance at Olympic glory for unknown players
“Even the past two or three Olympics, it’s something I never really thought I’d have a chance to do,” Trocheck said. “So it was never really a thought in my mind. After the fact that they decided the NHL wasn’t going, I guess there was a little bit of a ‘What if’ or ‘Maybe I could have gone.’ I’ve thought about it a little bit, but not too much. You can’t stress about stuff you can’t control, right?”
Trocheck is 25 years old, meaning he may get another shot at the Olympics in another four years. Or an American youth movement could sweep the NHL. Or the NHL could decide again not to participate in 2022 in Beijing.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world,” Trocheck said. “It’s in front of the entire world. It would have been really cool for everybody in the NHL to be involved. I’m sure guys that missed out this time and won’t get another chance are going to be upset.”
©2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.