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Why Professional Hockey Stinks

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OK, I got ya here with that headline, so just hear me out.

I don't know why the NHL makes it such a big deal at every Olympics. Will we be back? We're not sure. We'll discuss after the Games. We'll weigh the pros and the cons.

Blah blah blah.

Regardless of the cons -- insurance, logistics, ownership issues etc -- both the league office and Players' Association should just beg for it... and here's why.

First, how can you possibly go back? All-Star Game. Stanley Cup seventh game. They are like scrimmages when it compares to Olympic hockey. The overall hockey experience is that good.

Second: Players love it.

When asked about the NHL participating in future Olympics, U.S. men's team captain Zach Parise may have been diplomatic, but that doesn't mean he was neutral.

"I know I've liked playing, that's for sure," said U.S. men's team captain Zach Parise said on Thursday.

Sure, there is the emotion of the moment, and perhaps, the inconvenience of the experience will truly compute after the Games. Right now though, let there be no doubt. The NHL guys play for money, but playing for country is priceless.

Henrik Lundqvist would probably say the same about playing for Sweden. Shea Weber for Canada. Alex Ovechkin for Russia (Well, maybe not Ovechkin).

All of those players make millions -- several earn eight figures annually -- but here they are, for nothing, blocking shots and killing penalties.

Latvia vs. Canada put it all in perspective.

It was a quarterfinal game in which Canada won 2-1 and outshot the Latvians 57-16. Big whup.

However, if you watched the game (which you probably didn't) you saw something truly special. The best team in the world, replete with NHL All-Stars, absolutely dominated a team with only one player in the NHL. Yet somehow, the game was tied until only seven minutes remained. It was an amazing site as these massive Canadians pounded Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, a 21-year old kid playing in the minor leagues in Syracuse, New York. Shot after shot after shot... he made saves. One looked to go in, only to be disallowed. Every time the Latvians had an offensive opportunity, the crowd went crazy.

By the end of the game, everyone not from Canada was chanting, "Latvia ... Latvia." In fact, a few Canadians behind me jumped in as well.

It was incredible.

And it was just a quarterfinal game that very few people paid attention to because the U.S. team was playing the Czech Republic at the same time.

We need to be honest here -- and I've loved and played hockey since I was three. It's a fringe professional sport in America. It can absolutely succeed where it is now, and barring a Wayne Gretzky-like renaissance, it will probably remain in this range for some time. That's not a bad thing. The players are great; fans are loyal and happy; most teams are profitable.

The Olympics won't amplify any of that, but they have the potential to capture the collective consciousness when great things happen. Sure, a Russia-U.S. rematch never materialized, but everyone seems to agree that if it had, the attention would have been greater than any hockey game in years, perhaps ever.

Everyone involved in professional hockey needs to keep those kinds of possibilities... possible.

The real reason that the NHL needs to keep its players in the next Olympics is because of where the they are being held. South Korea. It is the first time the Winter Games have been in Asia since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Remember that one?

Stacked with NHL stars, both Canada and the U.S. performed horribly with neither earning a medal. Then, members of the U.S. team trashed their rooms in the Olympic Village.

They need to go back just to restore faith!

Secondly, getting Asia hooked on hockey would be along-term benefit well worth the risk. A lot of the countries in the region love sports, have affluence and are ripe to be new hockey fans. Forget about including the pros to grow the sport in the United States. Put on a classic show in South Korea, and a generation of neophytes could be inspired. That could happen. In fact, it's more likely than the NHL becoming much bigger in America.

There will be -- and have been -- multiple columns on this topic, but all you need to know is this: NHL owners need suck it up and write off their losses every four years. They'll still make money. The players will be happy, and the game will reach an audience of billions in Asia, which hasn't seen the world's best hockey ... ever.

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2 United States 9 7 12
3 Norway 11 5 10
4 Canada 10 10 5
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