ST. LOUIS — Blake Wheeler called the NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea disappointing, while Patrik Laine said the result was unfortunate.

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ST. LOUIS — Blake Wheeler called the NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea disappointing, while Patrik Laine said the result was unfortunate.

But Mark Scheifele expressed his displeasure like a true Canadian kid.

"It definitely sucks to hear that news," the Winnipeg Jets centre said Tuesday. "NHL players going to the Olympics is obviously a pretty big thing to the players. A lot of guys look forward to that their whole lives, to obviously win a Stanley Cup but to win a gold medal as well. I was definitely very disappointed."

The Jets’ leading scorer is a hockey fanatic. The 24-year-old Kitchener, Ont., native eats, breathes and sleeps all things puck, and that includes soaking up the memorable Olympic moments that unfold every four years.

He’d hoped to create some memories of his own in Pyeongchang.

"It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life," Scheifele said. He has represented Canada previously at world junior and world men’s championships.

He said filling Olympic rosters with second-tier talent does the game and its fans a tremendous disservice.

"I definitely think the best players not going to the Olympics is definitely a misrepresentation by our sport.

"It’s something that as Canadians, as NHL hockey players... something that we should be going to because it represents the sport, it grows the game so much, and the opportunity to go to a place far away and represent our sport and educate people on how amazing our game is."

Wheeler, speaking after the team’s morning skate in St. Louis prior to the game against the Blues, called the decision a botched opportunity by the league.

"The stage probably doesn’t get any bigger, as far as we’re concerned. You don’t get as many people to pay attention, people to watch, as you do at the Olympics," Wheeler said.

"It’s too bad... a real good opportunity wasted."

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files</p><p>The Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Mark Scheifele celebrate a goal in a recent game against the Ottawa Senators, but they’re not celebrating the NHL’s decision to take a pass on participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files

The Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler (26) and Mark Scheifele celebrate a goal in a recent game against the Ottawa Senators, but they’re not celebrating the NHL’s decision to take a pass on participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Wheeler was on the United States Olympic squad in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, that lost the bronze-medal game to Finland.

He said the experience was something he’ll always cherish.

"That’s just one of those things that you probably don’t set out to accomplish. At the end of the day, to say you’re an Olympian and you represented your country on the biggest stage, that’s something that’s pretty unique and pretty special," he said.

"I know the guys that were there who got a taste of it, you want to go back and try to compete, get on the medal stand. And the guys who haven’t had the opportunity to play there, you know it’s a real shame that they might not get that opportunity, because it’s such a special experience."

Laine, who has competed for Finland at the world championship and the World Cup, said he would have relished a chance to compete for an Olympic medal.

"I think it’s unfortunate to see the NHL say no. And I think everybody that is playing here would want to go and represent their country in the Olympics," he said. "The first Olympics, that would be a huge opportunity for me to be there with my country and try to win the gold medal. It’s unfortunate to see that.

"I’ve always been watching the Olympics, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. I’m always interested, especially when Finland is playing hockey. I’ve watched a lot of games."

Olympic talk was front and centre Tuesday in the Blues dressing room, as well.

St. Louis defenceman Jay Bouwmeester won gold with Canada in Sochi, calling it simply "one of the coolest things I’ve ever done."

"It’s not just about the hockey. (It’s) the whole experience of being part of a bigger team at the Olympics, representing your country with so many athletes from different sports," he said. "It’s very disappointing."

NHL players participated in the previous five Olympics, beginning in 1998.

Team owners have complained that stopping the NHL season for three weeks every four years wasn’t worth it. That message is clearly filtering down to NHL teams’ hockey operations.

"It’s an exciting event, it’s fun to watch," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. "But the logistics of it at some point, depending on the situation, get to be too difficult to handle. So, (we) move on."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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