It took way longer than it should have, but the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC came to an agreement for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, so NHL players will be made available.
The NHL will shut down for 17 days in February as many of its best players will be off to Sochi for a shot at Olympic gold.
“The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”
“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,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director in a released statement. “Having the opportunity to wear their nation’s sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to.”
Team USA will be led by head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager David Poile. Expect an announcement on Bylsma’s support staff within the next week or so, while USA Hockey’s Olympic orientation camp roster should be forthcoming as well.
Each team on the men’s side will have to submit a provisional 25-player roster (22 skaters, three goalies) for the Olympic tournament by Dec. 31, 2013, so that’s around when you can expect the official announcement of the team.
All three of Team USA’s prelim games at the 2014 Olympics should be televised live by NBC Sports.
Here’s the preliminary-round schedule:
Thurs., Feb. 13: Slovakia vs. USA — 7:30 a.m. ET
Sat., Feb 15: Russia vs. USA — 7:30 a.m. ET
Sun., Feb 16: USA vs. Slovenia — 7:30 a.m. ET
“The modern Olympic era is about sportive competition on the highest possible level. This is what fans around the world expect from a 100-metre race or downhill skiing and this is also what they are entitled to expect from our sport,” said IIHF Rene Fasel in a released statement.
“It is the obligation of the IIHF towards our fans that the biggest sports show on earth has the best players and towards our member associations that they are able to select the best players that their educational systems have developed. I would like to thank NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr for their co-operation.”
It’s good to see this long stalemate finally end, but it certainly doesn’t seem to bode well for the NHL’s participation beyond Sochi. This very well could be the last Olympics with the NHL, with the 2018 games being hosted by South Korea.
Either way, Sochi should be great theater for international hockey fans. The U.S. is going to have a big challenge, but it should be a lot of fun to see a lot of younger players get a big opportunity.
I’ll have a post later today with a fresh Team USA roster projection over at CBSSports.com, so be sure to check that out.