The playing field has been somewhat levelled with no NHL participation in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament, says Team Canada general manager Sean Burke.
“What really makes this Olympics interesting is that a lot of countries who didn’t consider themselves medal contenders or gold-medal contenders, especially if the NHL was to go, are now looking at this as an opportunity,” Burke said Tuesday on Sportsnet 650’s On Point.
The NHL announced earlier this year that its players would not participate in the 2018 Games, ending a run of five consecutive Winter Olympics featuring the league’s players.
“I know Canada’s expectations are never any less,” Burke told hosts Randip Janda and Perry Solkowski. “Our expectations are to go there and compete and have a chance to win the gold medal and that doesn’t change. It’s going to be a very, very intense, competitive tournament where a lot of countries are looking at this as a chance they haven’t had for a long time.”
Burke wouldn’t comment on implications from Tuesday’s news that Russia’s national Olympic committee was suspended from the 2018 Games. Russian athletes who pass anti-doping protocols will be allowed to compete, according to the ruling, but must do so under a neutral flag.
In addition, Russia’s KHL had threatened to not let athletes from any country leave their teams for an Olympic break — a decision that could affect Team Canada’s plans to bring players from that league to the Games.
“Until we know more, there’s really not much from our end to say,” said Burke. “We’ll just have to see how this plays out.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player below.