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Marchand says league, players have responsibility to grow game through Olympics

The NHL has yet to reach its decision regarding Olympic participation, but Bruins winger Brad Marchand, a key member of Canada’s World Cup team, said the league and players should find a way to play to help grow the game.

There’s not likely to be another Alex Ovechkin, a star NHL player who outright says that he’s going to be participating in the Olympics regardless of the league’s decision, but the list of players who have come out in support of heading to Pyeongchang in 2018 continues to grow.

The latest is Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand.

In speaking with the Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy, Marchand, 28, said that wanting to play in the Olympics goes simply beyond the players’ desire, however. 

Marchand said that allowing the players to go would be the best thing for the game in the long run because it helps introduce fans to the highest level of play on one of the biggest stages possible. And getting more eyes on the sport, he said, is a responsibility shared by the players and the league.

“The league has to help grow the game, the players have to help grow the game,” Marchand told Conroy. “We all play it because we love it and we want to share the game with as many people as we can across the world. And this is another way to do it. The Olympics is the most publicity you can get in hockey or any other sport. It’s a great way to (grow the game).”

Marchand is right, too, as the Olympics can garner massive audiences depending on how the tournament shakes out. 

The 2010 gold medal game, which pitted Canada against USA in a cross-border battle, had an average audience of roughly 16 million viewers, according to The Globe and Mail. And the American viewership for the Canada-USA final saw NBC pull down its largest audience for a hockey game in 30 years. The average audience was a massive 27.6 million viewers. The Canadian Press reported that as a 61 percent increase from the previous gold medal meeting between the two teams in 2002.

Of course, that all has to do with the two teams in the final being the North American super powers. But even if one only of the North American sides makes it to the final, the game still draws massive numbers. The 2014 gold medal game, which featured Canada and Sweden, was down significantly in average audience to 8.5 million viewers, according to The Globe and Mail, but that’s still a massive overall audience.

“(The fans are) the ones who want to see the highest form of play, and the Olympics wouldn’t be the same without the NHL in it,” Marchand told Conroy. “They know that. We know that. So if they want to take that away from all the fans, there’ll be a lot of disappointed people.”

Marchand’s interest in going to the Olympics certainly goes beyond simply growing the game, though. He’s undeniably playing the best hockey of his career right now — only eight players have more goals and 24 players more points than Marchand since the start of the 2015-16 campaign — and he was a key member of Team Canada’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey victory. He’d be a near shoo-in to make the Canadian squad were he to keep up his current run of play into the 2017-18 campaign.

However, despite the interest of Marchand and others in going to the 2018 Olympics, no decision has been made and it appears it could take until the zero-hour for the NHL’s decision on participation. The league reportedly has until Jan. 15 to make its decision.

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