MISS­ING FUN AT GAMES

Not be­ing able to play in Olympics this year an­other dis­ap­point­ment for Hawks stars

Chicago Sun-Times - - BLACKHAWKS BEAT - MARK LAZERUS Email: mlazerus@ sun­times. com

Pic­ture Pa­trick Kane skat­ing along­side Johnny Gau­dreau and Aus­ton Matthews, with Jack Eichel cen­ter­ing the sec­ond line be­tween Phil Kes­sel and Blake Wheeler.

A blue line led by Seth Jones, Zach Weren­ski and Shayne Gostis­be­here.

Young stars such as Brock Boeser and Char­lie McAvoy get­ting their first taste of the big­gest stage in hockey: the Olympics.

‘‘ It’d be fun to get a team to­gether like that,’’ Kane said.

In­stead of maybe the he best and most ex­cit­ing U.S. team ever, though, h, Team USA is led by y 39- yearyearold Brian Gionta, along with a ra­grag­tag group of of for­mer NHL L play­ers, mi­nor- lea­guers and col­lege kids who lost to Slove­nia in an Olympic opener. In­stead of Con­nor McDavid on Team Canada, there’s Rene Bourque. In­stead of Erik Karls­son on Swe­den’s blue line, there’s Erik Gustafs­son ( no, not that one). Of all the rea­sons the 2017- 18 sea­son has been a colos­sal dis­ap­point­ment for the Black­hawks, the NHL’s de­ci­sion to pull out of the Pyeongchang Olympics might seem like a rel­a­tively mi­nor one. But Fe­bru­ary would have been a lot more fun for the Hawks if some of them were in South Korea — and the rest were on a beach some­where. somew Sure beats bea los­ing seven con­sec­u­tive games ga and fall­ing out of play­off con­tention. ‘‘ If I you asked us around this r room, we’d a all say we w want to be [ at the Olymp pics] play­ing,’’ K Kane said dur­ing du the Al­lSta Star week­end. K Kane was on the 2 2010 Olympic team that lost to Canada Canad in an epic gold- m medal game in Van­cou­ver. He was on the 2014 team that failed to medal in Sochi. And he was on the 2016 World Cup team that flamed out spec­tac­u­larly, los­ing all three of its games.

This was go­ing to be Team USA’s chance at re­demp­tion — a young, fast, skilled team with veter­ans such as Kane, Joe Pavel­ski, Kes­sel and Jonathan Quick to lead the way.

Kane’s next chance will come in 2022, when the NHL is ex­pected to go to Bei­jing. By then, he will be 33.

But the Amer­i­cans are hardly the only ones left won­der­ing, ‘‘ What if ?’’ This was go­ing to be Canada’s chance to ce­ment it­self as an in­ter­na­tional hockey le­gend, with Sid­ney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Dun­can Keith and Co. seek­ing a third gold medal in a row un­der coach Mike Bab­cock.

Toews was fu­ri­ous about the de­ci­sion when it was made last year, up­set that the league was turn­ing the Olympics into a bar­gain­ing chip with the play­ers’ union. But mired in a try­ing sea­son of his own, Toews is more wist­ful than an­gry now.

‘‘ Noth­ing is given there; I can’t even stand here and talk like I’d [ def­i­nitely] be on Team Canada if we were go­ing,’’ Toews said. ‘‘ There are so many great play­ers.

So any chance you get to rep­re­sent your coun­try is a great honor. Who knows what would have hap­pened? But I think the pres­sure def­i­nitely would have been on Canada had we gone to the tour­na­ment there.’’

Since the NHL first went to the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Ja­pan, the de­bate has been whether it’s worth it for the league to shut down for two weeks — if it truly grows the game. Com­mis­sioner Gary Bett- man said the own­ers find it ‘‘ dis­rup­tive,’’ but Crosby said it would be ‘‘ weird’’ not to be there.

The play­ers want to be there, but they’ll have to wait four long years to get an­other chance.

‘‘ It’s a missed op­por­tu­nity,’’ said Wheeler, the dy­namic Jets winger. ‘‘ As cool as it is for play­ers to be part of the Olympic ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s a missed op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand our game. A lot of ca­sual viewers that aren’t hockey fans, they watch USA- Canada and they cheer, and that’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to ex­pand the game and make more fans. That’s the bum­mer about it.’’

NOTE: The Hawks put goalie Jeff Glass on waivers and are ex­pected to re­call J- F Berube from Rock­ford of the Amer­i­can Hockey League.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ MarkLazerus.

Pa­trick Kane is con­grat­u­lated by U. S. team­mates Ryan Kesler and Brian Rafal­ski after scor­ing in the Olympic semi­fi­nals in 2010. | AP

Jonathan Toews cel­e­brates after scor­ing for Canada in the 2010 gold- medal game. | AP

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