Matthew Tkachuk was six when his dad, Keith, wore the Team USA jersey in the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy. To this day it’s one of the coolest hockey memories the Calgary Flames winger can remember. And there have been many of them.
A little over a month from now, he had the opportunity to create a new one that would trump it. He and brother Brady both had a shot at being teammates for Team USA at the Beijing Winger Games. But the NHL and NHLPA ultimately decided not to send their players because of rising COVID-19 concerns. As Omicron ripped through many of the league’s rosters, games were postponed. Too many to make up later in the year.
“Obviously very disappointed. That’s something I’ve dreamed about my whole life. I got to witness it with my dad. My brother and I witnessed it with my dad when I was six in Italy and it was one of the coolest experiences of our lives,” Matthew Tkachuk told reporters on Tuesday via Zoom. “We’ve been talking about this opportunity to play at the Olympics and maybe play together. It’s obviously frustrating we don’t get to do it this year.”
Brady Tkachuk echoed his brother’s sentiments in his own availability. The Ottawa Senators captain was just as excited about the potential to play in the Olympics.
“You want to win the Stanley Cup, you want to win a gold medal for your country. Obviously with how it played out this year, it was going to be hard to kind of sneak it in,” Brady Tkachuk said. “It sucks. Hopefully down the road, it would be an honour to wear the U.S. sweater.
“I think for Matthew and I it was a dream of ours since we were kids. Hopefully there’s another opportunity down the road. If it is, I’ll be excited for it. A lot of those decisions are out of our control.”
Team Sweden won gold in 2006 when their dad donned the American colours. This year, a number of Calgary Flames had great chances to represent Sweden. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom had little competition to become the teams’ starter given his incredible start to the season.
“Yeah it’s terrible. It’s disappointing,” Markstrom said on Sunday. “Obviously, I understand the decision that’s been made but it sucks. Me, personally, and I think a lot of other players, have been looking forward to representing their country on the biggest stage in the Olympics. It doesn’t happen every year.
It hasn’t happened in a long time. The NHL passed on the Winter Games in South Korea four years ago. This year’s decision seemed inevitable, although it certainly led to many feelings of frustration.
“It’s been a lot of talk, a lot of buildup,” said Markstrom. “The closer you get, the more excited you’ve been.”
Adding the family element made it even more so for the Tkachuks. But Matthew put a positive spin on it.
“Hopefully in four years we’ll still be playing great hockey and maybe have a chance to go again,” he said. “It’s frustrating but it’s out of our control. Look forward to the next one.”
His Calgary Flames play their first game following an extended holiday break on Thursday in Seattle.