NHL players set for World Cup of Hockey; Olympics unclear
TORONTO (AP) — The World Cup of Hockey is coming back, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insists that doesn’t necessarily mean the league will skip the 2018 Olympics.
“I don’t think one has anything to do with the other,” Bettman said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
While Bettman didn’t sound enthused about the idea of the league’s players going to Pyeongchang, South Korea, he acknowledged being intrigued by the prospects of taking the sport to the other side of the world for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“Not to diminish South Korea, but in terms of sheer magnitude, it’s not the same as China,” Bettman said in the NHL’s Toronto-based office.
International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said hockey’s best shot to grow is in Asia after establishing roots in North America and Europe.
“If we can make our sport strong there, we really will have a great future,” Fasel said in a telephone interview.
Fasel said he is working on a date to begin Olympic-related discussions with Bettman and NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr.
Bettman, Fehr and several players attended a news conference Wednesday to promote the World Cup of Hockey, which hasn’t been held since 2004. The eight-team, two-week tournament event will be held in Toronto, where the host Canadians will likely be a strong favorite against a field that includes the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
“This is going to be the best collection of hockey talent that’s ever been around in this kind of tournament,” Fehr said.
There will be 23-and-under players from North America on one team and another squad comprised of European countries such as Switzerland, Slovenia and Germany — just to name a few — which raised a good question.
“Whose anthem will they play if they win the tournament?” Canadian center Steven Stamkos asked.
The NHL and NHLPA, which is teaming up for the venture, didn’t have the answer.
Both parties dodged questions about whether NHL players will be allowed to compete at the Olympics as they have since 1998.
Players made it clear they want to keep going to the Winter Games every four years.
“Obviously, we all know the impact of the Olympics,” said Sidney Crosby, who has helped Canada win two straight Olympic gold medals. “It’s a great brand of hockey. I don’t see one changing the other.”
Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist hopes that proves to be true.
“I think it’s a great experience even if it’s a long trip to get to the Olympics,” Lundqvist said. ”“It’s very unique and special. As an athlete to be there, it’s tough to beat.”
Team owners don’t seem to like shutting down their league for two-plus weeks in the middle of the season while hoping their stars don’t get injured at the Olympics. But Fasel said a big-picture view is best for the sport.
“If you want to grow the game globally, you have to take risks every four years that some of your top players will be injured,” Fasel said.
However, NHL owners will be exposing about 150 of their players to injuries and ailments just before next season by signing off on the World Cup of Hockey.
Rosters will be revealed by March 1, 2016, and the entire list of players for each team is due three months later.
The eight teams will be put in two groups with the top two in each advancing to the semifinals. The finals will be a best-of-three series, lasting no later than Oct. 1 of next year.
The U.S. will open the competition against Team Europe on Sept. 17 and the host Canadians will face the Czechs later that night at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ arena, where all the games will be played. The Americans upset Canada in the first World Cup of Hockey in 1996, and the Canadians beat Finland eight years later.
Instead of arguing over collective-bargaining agreements or player-team issues, Bettman and Fehr have collaborated to make the return of the World Cup of Hockey a reality.
“Finally, we’re working together and that’s very important and bodes well to our long-term relationship,” Bettman said at the news conference.
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