Deal reached to send NHL players to 2014 Winter Olympics

The Canadian Press
7/19/2013 5:38:43 PM
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NHL players are going to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

It took months of deliberation, but participation in the games was made official after an agreement was reached between the league, the NHL Players' Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"I think like everyone thought it was just kind of a matter of time, working out logistics," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "With it being a little further in Russia I'm sure there was a little bit more work to do. I'm glad that we're going and obviously excited to kind of start the process."

Commissioner Gary Bettman has been optimistic for several weeks about a deal getting done. But until it was finalized there was uncertainty about players going to the Games in Sochi, Russia, despite NBC securing broadcast rights for the games and players expressing the desire to go.

"The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere," Bettman said in a statement.

It will be the fifth Olympics featuring NHL players since they were first allowed to represent their countries in 1998. The NHL will interrupt its season from Feb. 9-26 for the tournament, which will take place from Feb. 12-23.

The 2013-14 NHL schedule, delayed until this deal was finalized, was released later Friday.

Canada won gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, when Crosby scored to beat the United States in overtime.

"It's gone by really fast," Crosby said. "Obviously with injuries and stuff like that, too, it wasn't like there was three full hockey seasons to kind of look back on. It's definitely gone by quick, but it's exciting. You start to kind of think about it and obviously with it being announced that we're going."

Overall it's been an up-and-down experience for Canada at the Olympics. Canada finished seventh in Turn in 2006, won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002 and finished fourth in Nagano in 1998.

Canada will be in Group B along with Austria, Finland and Norway. Group A is made up of the United States, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia, while Group C is made up of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia. Canada opens the Olympic tournament Feb. 13 against Norway.

Naturally, the expectation for Canada is the same as it was in 2010.

"Just being Canadian you realize pretty quickly that people come together that time of year, especially, and when it's hockey even more so," Crosby said. "I think that you want to go there and find a way to win gold."

Some Russian stars, including Alex Ovechkin, have said they would go to Sochi regardless of NHL permission. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis even said he would allow Ovechkin to go with or without the league's blessing. That is no longer an issue the league or players' association needs to worry about.

"The players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world's best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February," NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in a statement. "Having the opportunity to wear their nation's sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to."

Seven NHL referees and six linesmen will go to Sochi, joining the IIHF's on ice officiating crew.

Canada is expected to announce its coaching staff in the coming days. Reportedly Mike Babock will be back as head coach, joined by assistants Claude Julien, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock.

Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson said he hopes orientation camp in Calgary begins Aug. 25 but said in an interview he wasn't sure if players would be able to skate because of insurance issues.

"We got some quotes yesterday that it would be over a million dollars to skate," Nicholson said. "So if it's that type of dollars, it'd be very difficult for us to do that. But we're just starting to look into that now with the agreement being done today."

Sidney Crosby (Photo: Getty Images/YURI KADOBNOV)


(Photo: Getty Images/YURI KADOBNOV)
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