Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews make case for Olympic participation

Connor-McDavid

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a goal against the Dallas Stars. (Jason Franson/CP)

TORONTO – If you’re like John Tavares, and you watched Sunday’s epic Canada-Russia world juniors gold medal game on the edge of your seat, you probably wondered at some point why the over-19s don’t wage these types of best-on-best tournaments anymore.

“It’s created some of the best moments in hockey history, so I don’t know why we don’t have more of it,” said Tavares, who made a point of tuning into Barrett Hayton & Co.’s comeback.

“Another classic. It was a great game. Both teams played well. Great to see those guys bring it home and play the way they did. They faced a lot of adversity over the tournament and definitely in that game, so quite the finish.

“I think it proves, a game like we got yesterday — I know it’s under-20 world juniors — but you get the best players in the world, playing for their country in those tournaments, it’s very, very hard to beat.”

And very, very hard to make reality when money is involved, apparently.

The most recent senior men’s international tournament was the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and even that wasn’t a true best-on-best, with a final that featured a Team Europe conglomerate and a young-gun-composed Team North America that prevented studs like American Auston Matthews and Canadian Connor McDavid from wearing the flag.

With NHL and NHLPA unable to reach agreement, the notion of a February 2021 World Cup has been scrapped.

Team North America’s Auston Matthews celebrates his goal with teammate Connor McDavid, right, against Sweden during first period World Cup of Hockey action in Toronto, Wednesday September 21, 2016. The NHL’s last two No. 1 overall picks will meet for the first time tonight as Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs host McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers. (Mark Blinch/CP)

The next hope for such an event would be a return to NHL Olympic participation in Beijing 2022, eight years after Canada’s pros took gold in Sochi.

For that to happen, four governing bodies with four different agendas — the NHL, NHLPA, IOC and IIHF — must all be on the same page.

McDavid made a point to take in Sunday’s championship after Oilers practice. “Of course,” he says, he wants to wear the Maple Leaf again.

“It was really exciting. I definitely am someone who loves world juniors. I watch pretty much every game when I can. So, it was fun to watch yesterday,” said McDavid, who put up 11 points en route to world junior gold himself in 2015.

“Anytime you get a chance to represent Canada on a best-on-best tournament, it’s always so special and makes for the best hockey. So, I definitely hope that I get that opportunity one day.”

In the Maple Leafs’ room, Matthews — who has repped the U.S. at the World J’s and world championships — made his pitch to realize his Olympic dream.

“A lot of guys take a lot of pride in playing for their country, so the Olympics is top of the tops as far as that goes,” Matthews said. “That’d be a pretty amazing experience to be able to put on the U.S. jersey and play in a tournament, for sure.”

IIHF chief Rene Fasel, speaking at the world juniors wrap-up conference, gave NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a deadline of Aug. 31 to announce whether the NHL will send its players to the Beijing Games.

NHL-Oilers-McDavid-faces-off-against-Maple-Leafs-Matthews
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid takes a faceoff against Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The league opted to skip the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, citing travel, cost and logistical concerns.

“It’s an opportunity,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse, part of Canada’s golden 2015 squad. “We all grew up watching the NHL, but when those special tournaments came on, whether it was the Olympics or whatnot, everyone’s eyes were glued to it. Not just in Canada and the U.S. but all over the world.

“Those best-on-best tournaments, they’re not only great for the tournament itself, but great for the league. For people who don’t get to see NHL as often, it’s an opportunity for them to see our best players on that stage.”

Dave Tippett played in two Olympics, once as a professional, once as an amateur. The Oilers coach says he gets asked about the experience all the time. “The Olympic aura,” he believes, is real.

“I like the pro because we got a medal and the amateur I didn’t, but there’s advantages and disadvantages to both,” Tippett said. “Those are things that you remember for a lifetime. I hope that they can get things worked out.

“You have a lot of money involved in it. I understand the owners point of it, too. They’ve got players that are the faces of franchises that are going out there and risking injury. I understand all that, but that being said, I think everybody likes to see the best players in the game in the Olympics.”

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