Rene Fasel

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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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Four Olympic hockey options laid out by IIHF president

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IIHF president René Fasel said he told the International Olympic Committee there are four options for hockey’s participation at the 2022 Winter Olympics, according to TSN’s Gord Miller.

  1. Go back to NHL participation (as in 1998-2014)
  2. Use the 2018 model (participation from all major leagues except NHL)
  3. Use under-23 players (similar to Olympic men’s soccer)
  4. No Olympic hockey

It’s clear which option Fasel favors.

“Having the best on best should be our mission,” Fasel said in an Oilers TV interview last week.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has repeated since last fall 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 the recent Winter Games in South Korea.

“I never say never, but I find it hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense, unless, possibly, if the Winter Games are back in North America where the time frame and the attention and the logistics, travel, are a lot different,” Bettman said in November.

The last time a Winter Olympic sport was cut from an Olympic program was in 1960, when Squaw Valley organizers decided against the cost of building a sliding track, meaning bobsled events were not held. The sport returned in 1964 and has been on the Olympic program ever since.

There’s still a long way to go. The decision on NHL participation in the last two Olympics — in for Sochi, out for PyeongChang — was not announced until less than a year before each Winter Games.

“It is too early to get into Beijing, but it remains our goal to bring back a best-on-best Olympic tournament,” Fasel said earlier last week, according to the Edmonton Sun.

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Pyeongchang urges NHL to reconsider its position on Olympics

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PARIS (AP) The president of the Pyeongchang Olympic organizing committee is still hoping for an NHL U-turn.

“I don’t think they made the final decision so far,” committee president Lee Hee-beom said Monday at a news conference. “(There is) still room to discuss and negotiate.”

Last month, the NHL announced that it will not stop its season to allow players to compete at the Feb. 9-25 Olympics for the first time in 20 years. And Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reiterated the NHL’s stance last week, despite International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel saying that his organization was still hopeful of working out a solution to bring the sport’s biggest stars to Pyeongchang.

Lee met with Fasel in Paris on Monday morning to discuss the issue. Paris is co-hosting the hockey world championship with the German city of Cologne, with the quarterfinals later this week.

“I had a very useful breakfast meeting with Rene Fasel this morning and I also met many ice hockey leaders in Europe,” Lee said. “We totally agreed between IIHF and Pyeongchang organizing committee that we are in the same boat. We will cooperate with the IIHF to further develop the Olympic (hockey) venues.”

He said he hopes further negotiation with the NHL will prove fruitful.

“I’m ready to meet with their (the NHL) delegations wherever it is they say to do so,” Lee said. “Very recently I met their delegation in Pyeongchang, not only the athletes’ side, but also the labor union side. Not only in Pyeongchang, but also in New York. Nothing is concluded until the final conclusion is made.”

IOC President Thomas Bach is also lending his support.

“I have discussed with him over the phone last week. We are widely open to discuss this matter,” Lee said. “We are discussing not only with IIHF but also with the IOC in many channels.”

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