Minnesota Wild forward Mats Zuccarello should be prepared to clear his February schedule and grab the red, blue and white jersey of his home country of Norway out the closet, just in case.
With the 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled to begin in February of next year in Beijing, the International Ice Hockey Federation is taking a close look at whether or not the China is able to compile a competitive roster, despite the usual practice of allowing the host country to field at least one team or athlete in every sport.
A decision on Team China’s participation is scheduled for November 25, after IIHF president Luc Tardif and his team reviews two matchups this week where their players competed with the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star, a 5-4 OT loss on Monday to Amur Khabarovsk, and a 4-1 loss on Wednesday to Avangard Omsk.
“It will be our decision. We are on board with IOC,” IIHF resident Luc Tardif said, according to Sportsnet. “I didn’t want to do a diplomatic earthquake alone just coming as the new president, so we wanted to make sure we are on the same line with the IOC, and that’s the case. ...Norway is ready.”
Should the IIHF deem the 32nd-ranked Chinese team not ready for the Olympics, their spot would be given to the team just outside of the top 10 qualifiers. That means 11th-ranked Team Norway could draw in, and Zuccarello could make his return to the international stage after his last appearance at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The NHL prohibited its players from participating in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
As the most prolific (and only current) Norwegian player in the NHL, Zuccarello would no doubt make the roster should the IIHF allow Team Norway to compete. Neither Norway nor China would be expected to make real headway in Olympic pool play, as either team would be slated to join a group with Germany, the United States, and gold-medal favorite Canada.
If Zuccarello participates, he’ll likely join a few familiar faces in Beijing. Kevin Fiala should see a ton of ice for Switzerland, and Kirill Kaprizov is a lock as a middle-six winger for the Russian Olympic Committee team. Jonas Brodin and Joel Eriksson Ek have excellent chances to make Team Sweden’s roster, while Nico Sturm should get an invite for Team Germany. The Wild also have some longshots, like netminder Kaapo Kahkonen for Team Finland, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba for Team Canada, and Dmitry Kulikov for the ROC.