Stanley Cup champion Brian Gionta is back on track to play in the Olympics in South Korea this winter -- but many of his NHL comrades are forbidden from joining him thanks to a new and highly controversial league rule.
"As a player, you want that opportunity to represent your country on a stage like the Olympics," the right winger told AOL.com. "It's the biggest thing you can do."
The NHL announced in April that it would not allow its active players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, spurring backlash from athletes and fans alike. The decision came after complaints from team owners who said that stopping the NHL season every four years to allow players to participate in the Games was not worth it.
Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has been one of the most outspoken about the decision. Recently retired left winger Brandon Prust also had some strong words for the commissioner.
Gionta, who last played in the Olympics in 2006, doesn't agree with the rule but understands the league's position on the matter.
"[The owners] have a lot of money tied up in the players and their assets, so it's tough to risk them getting injured," he said. "At the same time, as a player, you want to be playing."
However, there is one silver lining for the hockey players who do get to go to PyeongChang, according to Gionta: a significantly longer trip.
"Last time, [NHL players] were ushered in after the Opening Ceremony and flew out before the Closing Ceremony," he recalled. "You didn't get the real experience of going to other events and getting the real vibe from the Olympics."
Gionta says he's looking forward to being a veteran that younger players can look to for help, thanks to his experience in both the Stanley Cup Final and the 2006 Games.
He says the intensity of the Cup and the Winter Games are different -- but comparable.
"When you're in the game, the pressure and importance of the game is all the same," he said. "It doesn't matter what kind of ice you're on, doesn't matter what kind of stadium you're in. It boils down to the competition."
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics begin February 8.