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Men’s hockey world championship canceled, ending winter sports season

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The men’s hockey world championship, scheduled for May in Switzerland, has been canceled, effectively ending the Winter Olympic sports season.

“This is a harsh reality to face for the international ice hockey family, but one that we must accept,” IIHF President René Fasel said in a press release. “The coronavirus is a global problem and requires major efforts by government bodies to combat its spread. The IIHF must do all it can to support this fight. We have to set sport aside for now and support both the government bodies and the ice hockey family.”

Men’s hockey worlds traditionally mark the final major competition of the winter sports season. World championships scheduled for March or April in figure skating, women’s hockey, short track speed skating and curling were previously canceled.

The last winter sports world championships to take place this season were in bobsled, skeleton and long-track speed skating the last weekend of February.

USA Hockey had already named 1988 and 1994 Olympian Peter Laviolette as head coach, though it had not named a roster.

Last year, a U.S. team captained by Patrick Kane lost in the quarterfinals, extending the program’s drought. The last gold at a standalone worlds came in 1933. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals in 2017 and earned bronze in 2018, sandwiching an Olympic quarterfinal exit in PyeongChang without NHL players.

Finland won the world title for the first time since 2011. It became the first nation to win a world title without a player who finished that season on an NHL roster since at least 1993, not counting the 1995 and 2005 lockout years. The NHL didn’t participate in the Olympics until 1998.

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NHL given deadline on 2022 Olympic hockey participation

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Olympic hockey officials need to know by late August whether the NHL will participate in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president René Fasel said Sunday that his organization needs an answer from the NHL before the last three nations qualify for the Olympic men’s hockey tournament in late August.

All of the world powers have qualified — including the U.S., Canada and Russia — leaving Latvia, Norway and Slovakia to host last-chance qualifying tournaments mostly made up of European nations without any Olympic medal history.

Fasel said the early deadline was set to avoid a repeat of the last Olympic cycle. The NHL announced 10 months before the PyeongChang Winter Games that it would not participate, ending a streak of five straight Olympics with NHL players. Fasel called that timeline “a late no” on Sunday.

The U.S. and Canada, whose past Olympic teams were entirely made up of NHL players, were forced to pluck players from various European leagues and U.S. minor leagues. Russia, then labeled the “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” ended up beating Germany in the Olympic final.

“Especially the North American teams, the U.S. and Canada, they had some problems to find the players and to build up a good team going to the Olympics,” Fasel said. “If there is a no [from the NHL on Olympic participation], these teams should have time to prepare competitive teams to go to the Olympics in 2022.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman repeated in the last two years that he doubts the league takes a midseason break for the 2022 Winter Games, even with a more favorable host market for hockey growth in China than in South Korea in 2018.

The NHL previously asked for concessions (mostly financially driven) from the IOC, IIHF or the NHLPA to entice NHL owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics.

“There is no news to report,” Bettman said in November after meetings with the IIHF. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I think going to the Olympics is a challenge for us. I know the players love representing their countries. I know that the players like going. I know that the players that don’t go like having a break in the middle of the season. But from our standpoint, we have found going to the Olympics to be incredibly disruptive to our season.

“For us, at best, it’s a mixed bag. And, again, it has some pretty material downsides in terms of what happens to our season.”

Fasel was, in contrast, optimistic on Sunday.

“I consider Gary as a smart person. He’s smart, and in the end, he will come. I hope so,” Fasel said. “Having the opportunity to present the game of hockey and his brand NHL in front of, first of all, 1.5 billion Chinese, and the rest of Asia, I think as a smart person he should. I know that Gary doesn’t want to say yes because he wants to negotiate. So we will see. It will be a lot of fun in, I would say, the next six months, seven months.”

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Ice hockey federation against blanket Russia Olympic ban

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The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) council wants “clean” Russian athletes at the PyeongChang Olympics.

The federation issued a press release Tuesday, one week before the International Olympic Committee is due to decide on Russia’s participation in PyeongChang in February amid its doping scandal.

“We wanted to outline our position clearly to the IOC, that we are against a collective punishment approach that would unfairly punish many Russian athletes that had nothing to do with doping,” IIHF president René Fasel said in the press release.

Earlier Tuesday, it was reported that Canadian, Swedish, Finnish, Czech and Swiss hockey federations sent a letter to the IIHF supporting Russian hockey participation in the PyeongChang Olympics.

So far, 19 Russian athletes have been retroactively disqualified from the Sochi Winter Games — and banned from the Olympics for life — as a result of the IOC’s investigation into Russian doping.

None of those athletes are hockey players, but seven female hockey players from Sochi are reportedly being investigated with an IOC hearing set Dec. 4.

The full statement from the IIHF:

The IIHF Council has reached a unanimous opinion that all clean athletes, including those from Russia, must be permitted to represent their country in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

We oppose the use of collective punishment in the case of Russian athletes. Although we recognize the need to confront doping in sport, Olympic participation should not be used to sanction the many for the actions of the few. In addition, the extent to which the IOC is seeking punitive measures in the case of Russia is putting the health of ice hockey at risk.

Russia’s role in the growth and development of ice hockey cannot be understated. This country forms a pillar on which our sport’s legacy rests upon.

To preserve the integrity of the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, the IIHF in full cooperation with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the Kontinental Hockey League initiated a highly structured testing program for the KHL, MHL, and WHL, which went into operation in December 2016 and up to the present has tested nearly 400 Russian players.

To this effect, the IIHF Council reiterates its position that clean athletes from all qualified Federations should be permitted to go to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and represent their countries.

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