The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

NHL reaches agreement to send players to the Beijing Olympics


The NHL is set to return to the Olympics in Beijing this winter after reaching an agreement with internatio­nal officials, though the league and players have the opportunit­y to withdraw if pandemic circumstan­ces warrant.

The NHL, its players’ union, the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee and the Internatio­nal Ice Hockey Federation struck a deal Friday that will put the best players in the world back on sports’ biggest stage in February after they skipped the 2018 Pyeongchan­g Games.

“It was not easy, but we did it,“IIHF president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone. “I’m really, really happy. When you see the last was 2014, and they would wait until 2026, so you have 12 years in between — that means we have a generation of hockey players that would not be able to play in the Olympics.”

Even after the NHL and players agreed to Olympic participat­ion as part of a long-term extension of the collective bargaining agreement last summer, the coronaviru­s pandemic and related costs threatened to shelve that possibilit­y. Instead, the sides figured it out, allowing for the league or players to withdraw if virus circumstan­ces change for the worse or there’s an outbreak during the season.

As long as that does not

happen, NHL players will compete in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament for the sixth time in seven chances dating to 1998.

“We understand how passionate­ly NHL players feel about representi­ng and competing for the countries,“NHL Deputy Commission­er Bill Daly said. “We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangemen­ts that will allow them to resume best on best on the Olympic stage.”

COVID-19 insurance is not part of the agreement, though Fasel confirmed the IIHF will provide a $5 million fund for any lost salary because of the disease. Vaccinatio­ns are expected to be required, and players will have their contracts insured for injury.

U.S. coach Mike Sullivan called returning to the Olympics “such an exciting time for hockey.”

He is not alone in that thinking.

Reigning NHL MVP Connor McDavid played for an under-23 “Team North America” at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and has yet to play for Canada in a tournament of the world’s best men’s hockey players.

“Just to be able to represent Canada at the Olympics and compete for a gold medal would be an absolute dream come true,“McDavid told the AP this week. “It’s kind of been a long time since we’ve been able to play best on best internatio­nally. I think for me, and I think for a lot of guys that were on that team, it’s been a long time coming. We’re obviously looking forward to going to the Olympics if we’re all lucky enough to make it.”

It could be the first Olympics for McDavid, U.S. star Auston Matthews, 2020 playoff MVP and two-time Stanley Cup champion Victor Hedman and many others. They didn’t get the opportunit­y three years ago, when national teams were made up mostly of college and European profession­al players, except for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who won the gold medal in Pyeongchan­g.

“The Olympics is one of the biggest dreams of mine and I haven’t been able to participat­e in one — this might be the last chance I get,” said Hedman, who was left off Sweden’s 2014 Olympic roster. “When you get an opportunit­y to represent your country on the biggest stage, it is one of those things that you’ll probably never forget. So yeah for me it is obviously something that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life and something I want to do before I hang up my skates.”

In anticipati­on of a deal being reached, the NHL already scheduled a threeweek break to take into account the Olympic tournament opening on Feb. 9. The league will still hold its All-Star weekend in Las Vegas before players fly to China on Feb. 6.

“It levels the playing field,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger, who made his Olympic debut in 1998 and won gold with Canada in 2010. “It allows more countries to compete at a higher level. It showcases the sport.“

NHL players at the Olympics became commonplac­e, with the IOC agreeing to pay travel and insurance costs and owners willing to pause the season for players to take part in the tournament. An entire generation of players grew up knowing of Olympics being a showcase for NHL stars.

“You have a dream of representi­ng your country,” said U.S. defenseman Ryan McDonagh of the Lightning.

 ?? Julio Cortez / Associated Press ?? Canada forward Sidney Crosby, left, scores a goal past Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during the men’s gold medal game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Julio Cortez / Associated Press Canada forward Sidney Crosby, left, scores a goal past Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during the men’s gold medal game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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