September 13, 2018 9:38 am

Wayne Gretzky says NHL players should be allowed to go to the Olympics

WATCH ABOVE: Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, who played in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, says the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics hurts players. (April 6, 2017)

A A

Wayne Gretzky says the NHL should again allow its players to compete in the Winter Olympics because sending the world’s top ice hockey players is “always much better for everyone.”

Story continues below

Speaking to The Associated Press on Thursday, the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer said he hopes the league and players’ association can “somehow figure this out” during upcoming talks.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a terrible decision’: Olympic gold curling champs weigh in on NHL skipping 2018 Olympics

Unwilling to break up the season, the NHL barred its players from playing in this year’s Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea.

It’s not clear whether the league will change its stance for the 2022 Games to be hosted by Beijing.

“I really think it’s a real special stage. There’s something really unique and special about playing for your country and there’s nothing bigger than playing for your country in the Olympic Games,” Gretzky said.

Wayne Gretzky waves to the crowd after lighting the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver on Friday Feb. 12, 2010.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

“So, you know with the Winter Olympics being here in China, it would be so wonderful for our sport worldwide and for the people of China to see the best players in the world on centre stage.”

READ MORE: Absence of NHL players makes men’s Olympic hockey tournament tough to call

Olympic ice hockey would still be exciting without the NHL, giving fans a chance to see the best younger players in the world, he said, but added: “There’s a different level. If we can send the best players in the game it’s always much better for everyone.”

He was in Beijing in his role as global ambassador for Beijing’s two-year-old Kunlun Red Star of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

READ MORE: Wayne Gretzky named global ambassador for Chinese KHL team

Though he said it may take years to truly establish ice hockey in China, he likened a local Winter Olympics to the catalyzing effect of the sport taking off in the U.S. following the underdog American team’s famous win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Games at Lake Placid.

Canada’s general manager Wayne Gretzky watches his team practice at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002.

THE CANADIAN PRESS//Paul Chiasson

“So I think the Red Star Kunlun team and what they’re doing, along with the Winter Olympics in 2022, that hopefully will jumpstart this sport of ours,” he said. “And 30-40 years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘You know what? That’s where we started and that’s where we were and that’s where we are today.'”

READ MORE: NHL won’t participate in 2018 Olympics; league says matter ‘officially closed’

Gretzky will also attend a preseason game between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames in the southern city of Shenzhen, marking the second consecutive year the NHL has played in China.

A Summer Olympics superpower, China is spending heavily to promote hockey and other winter sports in hopes of leaving its mark on the Winter Games.

Gretzky declined to pick a favourite for this season’s Stanley Cup winner, citing the high level of parity between the teams. At least 12 of the league’s 24 teams have a shot at winning, he said.

READ MORE: Why Canadians are coaching other countries’ Olympic teams

Gretzky expressed particular hopes for the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he won four Stanley Cups, and their star Connor McDavid.

Assuming he has the right teammates, “there’s no question in my mind that one day, Connor will lift a Stanley Cup. Hopefully it happens this year for us, but he’s still young in his career.”

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid skates on the ice as he takes part in a drill during the 2018 BioSteel Pro Hockey Camp in Toronto on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

© 2018 The Canadian Press

Report an error

Comments

Want to discuss? Please read our Commenting Policy first.