Plenty of American hockey fans are looking forward to Feb. 14, when the U.S. men's team will take the ice for the first time in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. But some fans may be disappointed by the lineup. The 2018 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team has one major difference from previous rosters.
Let's take a look the last Olympic Games for comparison. The U.S. men's hockey roster from 2014 shows that all 25 team members were major-league players. This year, none of the men donning U.S. jerseys will be National Hockey League (NHL) players.
Here's how the hockey leagues work in the U.S.
If you're a hockey fan, you already know this bit, but there are multiple hockey leagues in the country. The National Hockey League (NHL) is the major professional league and includes teams in the U.S. and Canada. (These are the teams that compete for the Stanley Cup.)
Next we have the American Hockey League (AHL), which is the upper-level "AAA" minor league, and the ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League), the "AA" minors. There are a couple more "A" leagues beyond these, but at the risk of too many acronyms, we'll save you all the confusion.
Finally, there are two collegiate-level leagues, the ACHA and NCAA, broken down into divisions.
This year's team won't have any U.S. major league players.
The NHL announced in April 2017 that none of its players would be competing in PyeongChang in February, breaking a 20-year streak. So hardcore Sharks and Capitals fans will just have to keep watching the regular season as usual.
There seem to be multiple reasons the NHL decided not to send its players to the winter Games. First, the league and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been at odds over who has to foot the bill for players' travel expenses and injury costs, a point of negotiation that has stayed at an impasse.
Then there's the issue of the NHL season. Whereas some major-league sports don't coincide with the Games (the NBA season runs October through June, for example, and the Summer Olympics are often in July or August), the NHL is in the middle of its season during the Winter Olympics. This can prove inconvenient, especially if players get injured during the Games — which happened during the 2014 Sochi Games. And finally, when it gets right down to it: NHL fans weren't too keen on losing their faves to a mid-season break, according to polls conducted by the league.
"I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our Board now and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption," said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in January, per the NHL. "Quite frankly we don't see what the benefit is from the game standpoint or the League standpoint with respect to Olympic participation."
But the 2018 roster still looks pretty impressive.
Jim Johannson, general manager of the USA Men's Team, is pretty excited about this year's team, according to Team USA. Just because Alex Ovechkin isn't taking the ice doesn't mean there won't be some incredible pro athletes in our midst. This year's USA Men's team roster includes 15 players from European professional leagues, four from the AHL, and three collegiate-level players.
"It's a group that brings versatility and experience and includes players who have a lot of passion about representing our country," said Johannson.
It's a pretty decorated lot. The team captain, Brian Gionta, competed in the 2006 Olympics, and played on the New Jersey Devils when they won the Stanley Cup in 2003, per Team USA. (To clarify: the NHL's decision only affects current league players; past league members can.) In total, the players have scooped up 13 medals in international competitions, and three of this year's forwards are highly ranked scorers in the Swedish national league.
The USA Men's team will take the ice for the first time this Winter Games on Feb. 14, taking on Slovenia.
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics will air live, starting Feb. 8.