NEW YORK – Before he oversaw a practice session Wednesday afternoon in New Jersey, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau tuned in to the men’s hockey quarterfinal matchups for the United States and Canada in the Olympics.
A night earlier, he witnessed American Lindsey Vonn capture bronze in the downhill race.
“You’re hoping for your country,” Boudreau said. “So for me, I just want the Canadians to do well.”
Wild players are also paying attention to the Games, catching events on TV or keeping tabs on the results in the newspaper, but they’d rather be in South Korea competing themselves than watching from afar.
“I think every single player would like to play for the Olympics,” winger Mikael Granlund said. “It’s one of the greatest things to play, to play for your country. It’s just a feeling there. It’s awesome. It’d be awesome to play there.”
This is the first time since 1994 NHLers haven’t participated in the Winter Olympics, a five-Games run that saw six current Wild players skate in the tournament and five lasso at least one medal.
Captain Mikko Koivu nabbed silver (2006) and bronze (2010) with Finland, while Granlund picked up a bronze with the Finnish squad in 2014. Winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter claimed silver in 2010 with the United States, the same year center Eric Staal landed gold as a member of Team Canada.
But in the lead-up to Pyeongchang, the NHL expressed its aversion to disrupting its schedule, a break that would eat up time when the NFL is adjourned and MLB’s season hasn’t started.
And amid the potential of player injury in the Games, along with the cost of participation — which the International Olympic Committee previously paid but said it wouldn’t for 2018 — the league announced last April its plan to sit out, a decision that still seems to sting the players who were prohibited from playing.
“Early on, when it was starting and opening … that’s when you miss it,” said Koivu, who was sidelined for the 2014 tournament because of injury.
Parise captained the Americans that year in Sochi, a team that also included Suter, and both wished they were able to suit up in 2018.
“You get a lot of neat memories and emotions from experiences there,” Parise said.
The time difference has made it a challenge to watch all the games, but Granlund has tried not to miss one. He knows most of the players representing Finland, a team Granlund boosted four years ago with three goals and seven points.
“Obviously, your country is there and you want to cheer for them,” he said.
But hockey isn’t the only event intriguing the players.
A self-proclaimed “big fan” of the Olympics — summer and winter — winger Nino Niederreiter loves figure skating and the curling.
He’s also paid close attention to the skiing, as he trains in the summer in the Swiss Alps with a few competitors.
Switzerland’s Carlo Janka finished 15th in men’s Alpine combined after winning gold in giant slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Janka tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in October but held off on surgery to give himself the chance to compete in Pyeongchang.
Niederreiter also works out alongside brothers Mauro and Gino Caviezel; Mauro was 13th in men’s downhill and 12th in men’s Alpine combined, while Gino was 15th in men’s giant slalom.
During the offseason, each has his own training program in the gym that he adheres to but the group sprints together, with top-notch conditioning a common trait among hockey players and skiers.
“They are completely breathless,” Niederreiter said. “It’s cool to see.”
Everyone on the Wild is a world-class athlete, too, but it can still be inspiring to see others realize their potential and make a dream come true.
And the Olympics certainly offers a chance to witness that for a few weeks.
“It’s crazy,” Granlund said. “Obviously, they need to be really good to get there. They’re really good athletes. So it’s awesome to see. There are some sports that you don’t see that often. I watch those. I think it’s just a spirit that there is. That’s something I really miss.”