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NHL will compete in 2014 Sochi Olympics; hockey world mourns loss of worst kept secret

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When did you know the National Hockey League would participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics?

Was it when it struck a billion-dollar deal with NBC, which also has the Winter Olympic rights? Was it when a bunch of NHL general mangers were given the reins of Team USA and Team Canada, and an NHL coach was hired to lead the Americans?

Whenever it was apparent to you, it wasn’t yet official until Friday afternoon, when the NHL, the NHLPA, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee secured participation of NHL players for the 2014 Winter Games.

The NHL will break from the 2013-14 regular season schedule on February 9 and return to play February 26. That’s a shorter break than the one for the KHL, which begins on Jan. 30.

From the NHL:

NHL players will be available to the 12 participating IIHF Member National Associations for the men's Olympic ice hockey tournament (February 12-23, 2014). This will mark the fifth consecutive time dating back to Nagano 1998 that NHL players have participated in the Olympics. More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete for their respective nations in Sochi.

"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. "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. "Having the opportunity to wear their nation's sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to."

So what are the specifics on NHL participation?

From the NHL:

As part of the IIHF-NHL-NHLPA agreement, seven NHL referees and six NHL linesmen will be integrated into the IIHF on-ice officials' crews that will work the men's tournament. The Olympic ice hockey tournament will be played according to the IIHF rulebook on international sized rinks, 60 x 30 meters.

The groups and schedule of the men's ice hockey tournament is below. Twelve teams in three groups will participate in the men's event (February 12-23). The women's tournament will consist of eight teams in two groups (February 8-20).

NBCUniversal, the Olympics rights holder in the U.S., and CBC/Radio-Canada, the Olympics rights holder in Canada, will present coverage of the Olympic ice hockey tournament in their respective countries. Schedules for each network will be released at a later date.

The IIHF also released its reaction to the deal:

“Although there were many details to discuss with our partners at the NHL and NHLPA, there was never any doubt in my mind that we would not continue the tradition from Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver,” said IIHF President and IOC Executive Committee Member René Fasel.

“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 Fasel.

“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.”

IOC President Jacques Rogge said about the agreement between the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA:

“I am very happy with the result of the constructive discussions which will ensure that once again we will see the world’s top ice hockey players competing at the Olympic Games. I would like to thank all parties involved for making this happen ahead of Sochi 2014.”

Well, glad that’s all settled. The men’s ice hockey tournament schedule is here.

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