The Rangers were thrilled to get back to game action Tuesday night against the Bruins at Madison Square Garden, but for certain players, watching the 2022 Beijing Olympics go on without them this past week was difficult.
“It’s hard, to be honest with you,” said Mika Zibanejad, who was one of the first three players named to Sweden’s hockey team before the NHL ultimately pulled out of the Winter Games at the end of December. “It’s hard to watch it and not be there. It’s a disappointment, obviously. But I think I’ve said that before. Nothing that I think about a lot, but definitely the first game when it started, obviously I wanted to be there. That’s not the case now and I’m just looking forward to get back playing here and playing our meaningful games that we have ahead of us.”
Added Russian winger Artemi Panarin: “Yeah, I never played. So for me, it’s a dream.”
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Still, both players said they have watched hockey and other sports going on at the Olympics, which began on Feb. 4 and is set to conclude on Sunday. Zibanejad mentioned he’d seen some curling, while Panarin said he had watched some figure skating.
The 28-year-old Zibanejad noted that he followed Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel, who has earned two gold medals at the Games in the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter races.
“It’s always fun to watch the Olympics,” he said. “There are a lot of sports that you don’t watch regularly.”
Panarin revealed earlier this season he had met with Russian team officials to discuss his participation in the Olympics.
“Really enjoy it,” Panarin said of watching the Games. “I feel like [the Winter] Olympic Games are not popular. Some countries not really interested, but I think that’s a big part of the world. Olympic Games, [lots of] history. You have to watch this thing.”
Despite being a full participant in the Rangers’ four days of practice, defenseman Patrik Nemeth was scratched on Tuesday. It was the sixth game that the Swede has missed for what the team has said is “personal reasons.”
“We don’t think he’s ready yet, just want to give it some more days,” head coach Gerard Gallant said.
Kaapo Kakko, who is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, missed a career-high seventh straight game. The Finnish winger hasn’t missed this much time since he was sidelined six games last season while in COVID-19 protocol, which forced players to miss at least 10 days last season.