EDMONTON â€” Canadian curler Mark Nichols found Olympic hockey to be a motivating force for his team on its run to winning gold at the Turin Games in 2006.
His team took in two men’s games during the tournament and watched the Canadian women’s team win gold.
“That was a real turning point for us at the Olympics,” Nichols said. “When we got to see the women’s team beat Sweden in the final and you saw them get their medals, we were at the end of our round-robin heading into the playoffs.
“When you experience that and watch someone win a gold medal, it was like ‘Oh listen, we’ve got to be there (too).'”
Nichols played third on the Canadian team skipped by Brad Gushue that beat Finland in the championship game in Pinerolo, Italy.
The Canadian men’s hockey team, meanwhile, did not fare as well. The 2006 squad didn’t reach the podium after dropping a quarter-final decision to Russia.
The national team bounced back four years later by winning gold at the Vancouver Games and successfully defending the Olympic title at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
Both Nichols and Gushue were disappointed to hear about Monday’s decision that NHL players would not be going to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I think it’s a terrible decision,” Gushue said. “Just from a hockey perspective, I don’t know how you don’t go to the biggest event in the world and showcase your best players. As a fan I’m very disappointed by it.
“I’m sure there’s some business reason behind it, but from a pure hockey and a pure fan’s perspective, I think it’s terrible to not give those guys an opportunity.”
Gushue and Nichols are hoping to return to the Games for the first time since Turin.
They can secure a berth in the Olympic Trials this December with a podium appearance at this week’s Ford World Men’s Curling Championship at the Northlands Coliseum.
On the men’s hockey front, the Olympic tournament will not exactly feature household names.
Canada will likely try to win a third straight gold with players from lower-level pro leagues around the world.
“A little disappointed in the decision as an athlete and a fan of high-calibre sport, Nichols said. “I just think you want the best players playing in the biggest event in the world.”
Former prime minister Stephen Harper was in attendance Monday night as Gushue defeated American skip John Shuster 8-2 to improve his round-robin record to 5-0.
Harper, who wrote a book on the history of hockey, declined to comment on the NHL announcement.
The 2018 Games are set to begin Feb. 9.
“If you’re any sort of athlete, that’s the coolest and the biggest event you’re ever going to play in,” Nichols said. “It’s too bad that those guys won’t get a chance to do it.”
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press