Several members of the Nashville Predators as well as many others throughout the National Hockey League have more than just championship rings on their minds this season.
They have thoughts of the Olympic rings.
This winter, for the fourth time, the league will suspend operations in mid-season to allow those players selected by their respective national teams to take part in the Olympics, which this year will be held in Vancouver.
“For sure, it’s one of my goals,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “That would be one of my dreams — to play for my country in the Olympics. That would be unbelievable.”
This season’s Olympic break will last 15 days, from Feb. 15 through March 1. That’s the same as the last Olympic year (2006) and three days more than in 2002 when only 12 days were allowed for the Salt Lake City Games.
Between now and then, players will attempt to earn a spot with their national teams based on how they perform for their NHL clubs.
“We have a couple guys who are in the mix with the U.S., Canadian, German and Czech teams,” coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s lots of good things can happen from that. I think a player wants to play well and get the opportunity to play in the Olympics. That’s one more motivating thing for every player, I think.”
Nashville’s top three defensemen, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis, all are under consideration — Suter by the U.S. and Weber and Hamhuis with Canada. None of the three have any prior Olympic experience but all three have participated in recent World Championships.
Free agent forward Marcel Goc and defense prospect Alexander Sulzer both played for Germany at the last Olympics. Martin Erat did the same for the Czech Republic in 2006.
“I think the better I do here and the better we do as a team, the better that’s going to work out for me,” Suter said. “Obviously, your number one focus is here, but you have to think about it.
“It’d be like sitting at your desk and thinking, ‘Man, in a couple weeks I get to go to Disneyland.’ It will always be in the back of your mind, for sure.”
Rinne was one of six goalies that participated in a three-day camp for Finland over the summer.
He made a strong case for inclusion on that team when he was voted one of his country’s three best players at the 2009 World Championships. He started six of seven games in that event and had a 1.93 goals-against average and a 92.6 save percentage.
“That was first time to wear our national team jersey,” Rinne said. “We have the same coach and he knows the way I play. I think it was a really good thing.
“Obviously, the biggest thing now is to have a really good start to the season and go from there. I just have to think about our own team, but that’s always in the back of your mind.”