Count Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov among those who think the NHL has it all wrong. The 26-year-old Russian believes NHL players should be at the Olympics. He also thinks the COVID restrictions are ridiculous when it comes to professional hockey.
He’s not alone, but it’s rare to hear a player be as honest as Zadorov often is.
Asked by Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson about the Winter Games decision during Zadorov’s first post-break Zoom call with the media on Sunday, the outspoken blueliner said a lot despite being mindful of his words ahead of the Flames game in Chicago against the Blackhawks.
“It sucks, definitely. I mean, I could say lots of things, but I don’t want to get fined or something,” Zadorov said. “I see it both ways. Obviously, NHL is a company, right? They want to make money. And we are the (employees). So when the boss tells you that you cannot go, you’re not going, right? That’s the one part. Other part is they told us, promised us, we (would) go.”
In one of the least surprising moves of the season, the NHL announced its players would not take part in the Beijing Olympics in February. Instead, the league is going to use that time to re-book games that were postponed in December and January due to the COVID protocols and Canadian provincial measures that are restricting the number of fans in the rinks.
The Calgary Flames went through an Omicron outbreak in mid-December and Zadorov believes from his personal experience that things need to change in order for the league to keep playing.
“Obviously, with this COVID stuff, it’s all the way around. It’s so stupid. Like, quarantine for 10 days when you have no symptoms. It’s been two years already with COVID and there are still so many restrictions and all that stuff,” Zadorov continued. “I think all the people in the world are already tired of it. They want to live normal lives. I understand it’s still a really dangerous virus for some of the people, but as young human beings and healthy professional athletes, I think there should be different restrictions for different people. That’s how I see it. And then we would go to the Olympics and nothing would happen, and we would normally play.
“Obviously, there was lots of talks about the Chinese government, how we didn’t have any answers and all that. But when you get that chance … you just don’t think about that. When you get a chance to go, you go no matter what. That’s how I’ve been raised in my country and that’s how I see it.”
The World Junior Hockey Championship was cancelled in Alberta last month because of a number of positive cases that led to forfeited games. On their way home, the Russian representatives were pulled from their plane for not following COVID restrictions. They, too, seem to be tired of the COVID world, but the fatigue isn’t limited to their country and culture.
Some members of the Calgary Flames may have isolated from their families during their outbreak, but not all took the extra step. Their families were likely already exposed given how quickly the Omicron variant travels from person to person. But some were also of the belief that the variant’s effect on vaccinated people is so mild that they weren’t concerned.
Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson – who would have been a candidate to join Sweden’s submission for the Olympics – enjoyed his time with his wife and four-and-a-half-month-old son, Benjamin.
“We said right away when we heard it was the Omicron variant that you wouldn’t get too sick from it. We didn’t. For me, it felt just like allergies I have in the summers,” said Andersson. “My wife ended up getting sick, too. She feels better now.
“The little guy, it looked like he had a cold – sneezing and coughing a little bit. He’s fine now too. It sucked that everybody tested positive but at the same time it was nice just being at home for 10-12 days with them. It was nice to have the quality time with them.”