The National Hockey League is back in the Olympics.
On September 3, the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and the IOC agreed on a framework to send players to Beijing for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in February 2022. The news brings heightened interest in men’s ice hockey, one of the signature events at the Winter Olympics.
The men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament debuted in 1920, with the women’s event being added at the 1992 Albertville Games. For decades, amateur hockey players sported their country’s colours at the Olympics. Part of what made the Miracle on Ice so special in 1980 was the youth competing in the game, and now those players are forever entrenched in American sports lore.
But on Oct. 2, 1995, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a deal with the NHLPA and IOC for NHL players to compete in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. It was the first time the NHL supported its players going to play for their country at the Olympics.
The world’s best players did not participate in the 2018 Games in Korea and fans have been craving a true best-on-best tournament since they were last there in 2014. Players have been outspoken in their desire to get back to the Games and part of the Return To Play agreement between the NHL and NHLPA ahead of the 2020 bubble playoffs included a renewed commitment to the Olympics.
NHL players have competed in five Winter Olympic Games, producing a plethora of unforgettable moments. Below is just a sampling of those memories:
1998 Nagano Olympics: Czech Republic Victorious
The first Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey tournament with NHL players didn’t disappoint. Canada’s roster was stacked, with Hall of Famers such as Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman up front, Scott Stevens and Ray Bourque on the blue line, and Patrick Roy in between the pipes.
Despite the deep roster, Canada met its toughest test in the semifinals, taking on a pesky Czech Republic squad. Canada needed a late goal from former Vancouver Canucks forward Trevor Linden to send the game into overtime.
The rest is history. Canada and the Czech Republic went to a shootout, and Dominik Hasek stopped every Canadian player as Wayne Gretzky sat on the bench, not participating in the shootout. Robert Reichel’s goal propelled the Czechs past Team Canada in a dramatic upset.
In the Gold medal game against Russia, Czech defenceman Petr Svoboda scored the lone goal. Hasek stopped all 21 shots he faced and the Czech Republic won its first gold medal in Olympic men’s ice hockey history.
2002 Salt Lake City Olympics: Belarus Upsets Sweden
Upsets in sports are special. Upsets at the Olympics are another level of magnitude.
The 2002 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament saw Belarus, competing for the first time as a nation, take on Sweden, a hockey powerhouse, in the quarterfinal. The Swedes were the heavy favourites to advance, with a roster that included Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom. Belarus had one NHL player, a 22-year-old Ruslan Salei, who was only in his second season with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Sweden entered the quarterfinal game with a 3-0 record, while Belarus got through a much softer group that included Ukraine, France and Switzerland with a 2-1 record.
The underdogs put together an inspired effort, with the game tied at three late in the third period. Then, with less than three minutes to go in regulation, Vladimir Kopat, a Belerussian defenceman, fired a high shot from just inside the centre red line that handcuffed Tommy Salo and trickled in to the net behind him.
Next to the USA’s upset of the Soviet Union in the Miracle on Ice, Belarus’ upset of Sweden remains one of the most unlikely Olympic stories in ice hockey history.
2002 Salt Lake City Olympics: Canada Golden on American Soil
Lemieux. Lindros. Sakic. Yzerman. Niedermayer. Pronger. Brodeur.
Canada’s 2002 Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey team was stacked. However, their journey to the gold medal game faced challenges.
The Canadians lost their opener to Sweden 5-2 and then they barely squeezed past Germany with a 3-2 win in their second contest. They wrapped up their preliminary round with a 3-3 tie against the Czech Republic, who eliminated them four years earlier.
That result prompted an epic post-game press conference rant from Canada GM Wayne Gretzky, which served as motivation for the team.
Canada rallied from there, beating Finland 2-1 in the quarterfinal and then hammering Belarus 7-1 in the semis after their underdog win over Sweden.
In the Gold medal game against the United States, Canada played a complete game. Two goals from Jarome Iginla, two goals from Joe Sakic (including the game winner), coupled with superior goaltending from Martin Brodeur and Canada defeated the United States 5-2, earning the country’s first gold in men’s ice hockey in 50 years.
2010 Vancouver Olympics: Teemu Selanne Sets Records
A group stage game between Finland and Germany in 2010 turned out to have a record-setting accomplishment.
When Teemu Selanne, the ‘Finnish Flash’, assisted on teammate Kimmo Timonen’s second power-play goal of the game, he recorded his 37th career point at the Olympics. That surpassed the previous record of 36, which was held by the USSR’s Valeri Kharlamov, Canada’s Harry Watson, and the Czechoslovakia’s Vlastimil Bubnik.
When Selanne retired, he ended his Olympic career with 43 points and remains the highest scorer in men’s tournament history.
2010 Vancouver Olympics: Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal
Say the words “Golden Goal” to any Canadian and they probably remember where they were when they watched the 2010 men’s Olympic ice hockey Gold medal game between Canada and the United States.
A last-minute goal in regulation by American Zach Parise forced the game to overtime tied at two, and less than 10 minutes into the extra frame Sidney Crosby came through.
With Iginla battling for the puck in the corner, Crosby audibly called out “Iggy” as he streaked towards the front of the net. Iginla’s quick pass hit Crosby in stride and ‘The Kid’ shot it through the five hole of American goalie Ryan Miller. Pandemonium ensued inside Rogers Arena and around the country.
Crosby’s “Golden Goal” gave the Canadian men a gold medal on home soil. In a career that consists of three Stanley Cups and numerous individual accomplishments, Crosby’s most remembered is this clinching goal.
2014 Sochi Olympics: TJ Sochi is Born
Thirty-four years after the Miracle on Ice, the United States and Russia once again had a classic Olympic hockey game in the preliminary round.
Former Detroit Red Wings player Pavel Datsyuk opened the scoring in the second period, before Cam Fowler tied it up on the power play. In the third period, Joe Pavelski gave the United States a 2-1 lead with another power play goal, but that was short-lived, as Datsyuk tied the game at two with a little over eight minutes to go.
With overtime solving nothing, the game went to a shootout. Since Olympic rules permit a player to shoot multiple times after the first three attempts, Team USA head coach Dan Bylsma elected to lean on T.J. Oshie.
Oshie opened the shootout with a goal. After the first three shooters went, Oshie returned as the USA’s shooter on attempts four, five, six seven and eight, scoring on four of his six opportunities. His last goal, which beat Sergei Bobrovsky five-hole, gave the Americans a 3-2 victory.
Oshie’s memorable four-goal performance in the shootout at the 2014 Olympics secured Team USA a bye to the quarterfinals (they finished fourth overall), and earned him the title “TJ Sochi.”
2014 Sochi Olympics: Latvia Gives Canada a Scare
Canada was seeking its second consecutive Gold in men’s hockey at the Sochi Olympics, but it nearly ended in disaster.
The Canadians won all three of their group stage games and earned a bye to the quarterfinal, where they met Latvia. The Latvians, who had to earn their spot to the Olympic tournament through qualifying first, only had one NHLer on its roster: Buffalo Sabres rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons.
But Latvia gave the Canadians a scare, holding a 1-1 tie after the first period all the way into the late stages of the third. An upset felt more possible as the seconds ticked off the clock.
Shea Weber ultimately broke the tie with less than seven minutes left in regulation, and while Canada outshot Latvia 57-16, the underdogs showed tremendous heart and goalie Krister Gudlevskis stole the show. Two months after the Olympics, Gudlevskis got his first NHL start with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Eight years later, the Latvians are back competing at the Beijing Olympics in February, after defeating France 2-1 in the final qualifying event.