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Missing Olympics still disappointing for Team Canada fan Connor McDavid

This isn't how Connor McDavid expected to watch the Beijing Olympics. The Edmonton Oilers superstar planned to be on the ice and in the athletes village in China. Instead, he's catching the action from his couch.
New York Islanders' Zach Parise (11) and Edmonton Oilers' Cody Ceci (5) and Connor McDavid (97) battle for the puck during first period NHL action in Edmonton on Friday, February 11, 2022. The superstar planned to be on the ice in China. Instead, he's catching the action from his couch after the NHL pulled its players from the Games in December due to COVID-19 concerns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

This isn't how Connor McDavid expected to watch the Beijing Olympics.

The Edmonton Oilers superstar planned to be on the ice and in the athletes village in China. Instead, he's catching the action from his couch.

"It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the Olympics since I was a little kid. So to have that kind of squashed as we were getting close was disappointing," McDavid told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.

"But just to be able to watch the athletes do their thing and put on a great show from home, it’s been a different experience but something I’ll still remember. The Olympics are such a special event and any time Canada is over there and participating, I try to support."

After Oilers games, he comes home to catch whatever event is on. Snowboarding has been a favourite, with some competitions even featuring a familiar face.

McDavid is friends with Mark McMorris, the Canadian snowboarder who slid to bronze in the men's slopestyle. It was the third Olympics in a row the 28-year-old from Regina has won bronze.

"Seeing his performance over the years, it’s been really special to watch," McDavid said. "And he’s come home with medals each and every time."

The hockey phenom is encouraging sports fans to support their favourite Canadian athletes, too. He's partnered with the Cheerios cheer card campaign which allows people to send athletes digital messages of encouragement and celebration throughout the Games.

"It means a lot to have a way for us as athletes to connect with our fans, for them to share their words of encouragement," McDavid said. "It can really keep us going. It can really keep athletes pushing forward.”

He's also hoping to one day get a chance to feel the same support when he finally takes the ice at the Olympics.

McDavid missed out on the 2018 Pyeongchang Games when the NHL opted not to send players for financial reasons. He was one of three athletes named to Canada's provisional squad for the Beijing Olympics, but the NHL pulled its talent in late December as COVID-19 outbreaks swept through locker rooms across the league.

Team Canada was ousted from the quarterfinals with a 2-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday. It's the first time in 16 years the men's team has not brought home a medal.

McDavid never expected it would take this long to get a chance to compete for Canada on sport's biggest stage.

"Growing up, NHLers were always at the Olympics," said the 25-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont. "I didn’t even realize it could be taken away, that NHL players could stop going to the Olympics. It didn’t even cross my mind."

He's hit milestone after milestone over six NHL seasons, but McDavid remains hungry to wear the Maple Leaf in a best-on-best tournament at the senior level. The closest he's come in recent years was playing for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 on a roster of up-and-coming stars.

While another shot at the Olympics will have to wait until Milano Cortina in 2026, McDavid may get a chance to don a Team Canada sweater sooner than that. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league is speaking with the NHL Players' Association about reviving the World Cup of Hockey in 2024.

“I like the idea a lot," McDavid said. "I’ve definitely been vocal about hockey needing a best-on-best tournament. It’s been a long time since we had one. … It’s going to be eight years, 10 years since we have our next best-on-best. That’s too long of a stretch."

A best-on-best tournament simply gives players a chance to push themselves, he added. 

"It’s the best versus the best," he said. "I think that’s what us hockey guys are looking for, something we haven’t had for a long time. Just to compete at that high level is what we all want.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press