Canada players sing the national anthem after being awarded their gold medals after they beat Sweden 3-0 in the men’s ice hockey gold medal game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Canadians lukewarm about Olympics without NHL: poll

Will hockey fans tune in the Olympics without NHL players participating?

With no NHL players competing at the Olympics for the first time since 1998, some Canadians are saying the competition has lost some of it’s lustre.

From the Lucky Loonie to the Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Canadians have enjoyed great hockey during the Olympics but an Angus Reid Institute study, released on Feb. 7, states one in five hockey viewers (17 per cent) are not going to watch at all this time around.

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According to the study 40 per cent said they will still watch Olympic hockey, but they’re not going to be as invested this time around. A similar number (43 per cent) said they will still watch and their enthusiasm will be unchanged.

Sean Burke, general manager of the Canadian national men’s hockey team, believes people will still get behind the tournament and Team Canada because of their pride.

“I was very fortunate to play in two Olympics, in 88 and 92, and I remember the competitiveness of the tournament, the incredible intensity, the honour it was for myself, my teammates to put on the jersey and all of that is going to present in this Olympics as well,” said Sean Burke.

Burke said the stories behind the players who are seizing the moment to play in the Olympics will also be a draw to fans.

“I think that is what people will latch onto quickly with this club. There is a lot of great stories, individual stories on this team. Guys that have got to this point through adversity and perseverance and then as a whole just the nature of this tournament. There is a lot of teams that feel they have a chance to compete for a medal and that alone will make it incredibly tense and competitive. There is a lot of things to draw on from this tournament for sure.”

The study notes that 36 per cent of Canadians who said they were not going to watch the Olympic hockey tournament at all, regardless of who was playing, were left off the graph that asked the question: How does the decision to not allow NHL players to participate affect your likelihood to follow the hockey tournament in PyeongChang?

Undesirable start times could see some viewership drop compared to previous Olympics. Canada kicks off the men’s hockey tournament on Feb. 15 at 4:10 a.m. against Switzerland. On Feb. 16 they face the Czech Republic at 7:10 p.m. and then will play South Korea on Feb. 18 at 4:10 a.m. (PST).

Record viewership for men’s hockey came in 2002 when the Olympics were in Salt Lake City (10.3 million) and the Vancouver 2010 Games (16.7 million).

The absence of NHL players at the Olympics also could open a door for women’s hockey to take the spotlight. At the Vancouver 2010 Games, the women’s gold medal game netted the 10th most viewers in Canadian broadcast history with 7.5 million. The women’s gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is considered by many hockey experts as one of the most thrilling women’s ice hockey games to have ever been played.

“It will be a good opportunity for our team to be in the spotlight and I think when we get people watching our sport, we usually can get them hooked. It is just a matter of getting those fans in the first place,” said women’s national team member Brianne Jenner. “I think it will be a good opportunity for us and I think our game has come a long way and it is a great product on the ice for hockey fans.”

Overall, 58 per cent of Canadians say they’ll be following the Olympic Games this month.

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