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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