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Bolts Beat: Sochi Olympics could be last with NHL stars

TAMPA — Like many Americans of my generation, I was turned on to the Olympics by the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the “Miracle on Ice.”

I sat at the living room table in my parents’ house in Massachusetts playing cards with cousins when word started to circulate about the hockey game between the Soviet Union and the United States on Feb. 22, 1980.

The game was played at 5 p.m. in New York and did not air live on ABC, which opted to record the game and air it in prime time. At that time, there was no ESPN crawl on the bottom of a screen, no CNN Headline News, phones were attached to the wall in the kitchen and there certainly was no Twitter for updates as the game happened.

Yet, there we were at the table when, “Did you hear we beat the Russians?’’ started to come up in the conversation

The college kids, molded together in a matter of months by Hall of Fame coach Herb Brooks, knocked off the group of professional amateurs who had played and trained together for years.

I’ve been hooked on the Olympics — both summer and winter — ever since.

We will never see another moment in Olympic history like the Miracle on Ice. But what a treat it has been since 1998 to watch the best hockey players in the world join the Olympic movement and compete for their country and for gold.

Plenty of memorable moments have arisen — Dominik Hasek stoning Canada in a shootout in the semifinals, Canada’s “lucky loonie’’ in Salt Lake City in 2002, Sweden defeating rival Finland for gold in 2006, and Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal’’ in overtime on home soil in Vancouver for Canada.

No doubt, this year’s hockey tournament will produce more lasting memories and moments.

Sadly, I get the strong impression this might be the last in which NHL players will be permitted to participate in the Olympics, particularly with the 2018 Games scheduled to take place in South Korea.

Recently, Columbus president John Davidson and Philadelphia owner Ed Snider have been outspoken about shutting down the NHL for two-plus weeks.

“I hate (the Olympics). It’s ridiculous, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Snider told The Hockey News. “I don’t care if it is in Philadelphia, I wouldn’t want to break up the league. I think it’s ridiculous to take three weeks off … in the middle of the season. How can anybody be happy breaking up the season? No other league does it, why should we? There’s no benefit to us whatsoever. If anything, I can only see negatives.’’

Now, a cynic might suggest this could simply be an early negotiation ploy between league owners and the NHLPA for future discussions because the players want to maintain their participation.

Then there is the issue of control, of which the NHL has very little — if any — when it comes to the hockey tournament. When the Games were in Vancouver four years ago, the NHL was prohibited from using images, video or even a news conference with commissioner Gary Bettman on the league website or on the NHL Network.

“Our experience with the Olympics has been a mixed bag — it’s not our tournament, we’re not in control of it, it’s at a time of the year that doesn’t work in our regular-season schedule,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Wall Street Journal last month. “On the positive side, we recognize we’re on a worldwide stage.’’

So yes, these certainly can be comments meant to lay the groundwork for future negotiations, both between the NHL and NHLPA as well as the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. And if the IIHF relinquished some control and perhaps shared some of the hockey profits, maybe things will be different the next time the Winter Games roll around.

In reality, it’s likely laying the groundwork for the NHL not shutting down for a tournament it has little control over.

So enjoy the hockey in Sochi. It sure seems like the last Olympics the NHL will support.

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