STOCKHOLM – All main stakeholders met here on Friday to discuss issues and receive information about the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament in Sochi 2014. All signs pointed to next year’s tournament being the fifth consecutive best-on-best hockey at the Olympics, including full NHL participation.
When an Olympic ice hockey event is planned, there are many stakeholders involved. So at Friday’s meeting in downtown Stockholm there were representatives from the IOC, Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, the National Olympic Committees, IIHF, IIHF Member National Associations, the NHL, and the NHL Players’ Association.
IIHF President René Fasel opened the meeting with the following encouraging words:
“We are working hard to putting together the last pieces to ensure NHL players’ participation in Sochi. We have some issues left, but I, as always, remain optimistic.”
Fasel did not mention a date for when a final agreement with the NHL/NHLPA needs be reached, but NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly echoed the optimism:
“We are proceeding under the assumption that the NHL will participate in Sochi. We are still working on important issues with the IIHF and the IOC, and subject to our board of governors’ consideration and approval, it remains the objective that Sochi will be the fifth consecutive Olympics with NHL participation and where the NHL shuts down for the duration of the Olympic tournament.”
Daly informed the meeting’s participants about the NHL’s logistical schedule with regards to taking a break for the Olympics. It will be as follows:
- All players will travel by charter from four North American hubs to Sochi.
- The last playing day prior to the Olympic break is scheduled for February 8, 2014, with approximately half of the 30 teams playing on that day and half on February 7.
- The selected players will depart on February 8 or 9. They will arrive in Sochi on the 10th with Tuesday 11th being a full practice day. The men’s tournament opens on February 12.
- The NHL’s regular season schedule will resume on February 25, two days after the Gold Medal Game in Sochi.
The Deputy Commissioner outlined some other issues which are of critical importance for the league, beginning with player insurance.
“There is obviously a risk involved when you bring over a projected 160-180 NHL players where the total contract value would be around $3 billion. This is a risk which must be insured, especially in cases of season-ending or career-ending injuries.”
Daly broached several other critical areas of concern:
- Access to media coverage, looking for advantages for exposure especially on the league’s own platforms, NHL-TV and NHL.com. “We want to promote the fact that the NHL and its players are participating in the Olympics during a period when our league shuts down.”
- Medical access: NHL/NHLPA professional medics will follow every game
- In agreement with the IIHF, the NHL will send seven referees and six linesmen to Sochi. NHL on-ice officials have also been at the Olympics since Nagano 1998.
- There will be twelve NHL security professionals, assisting the already existing security contingent.
Daly stopped short of giving a date for final confirmation of NHL participation but ended his presentation by saying that, “hopefully sometime soon we will be able to give the recommendation to our board of governors regarding our league’s Olympic participation.”
Tyler Currie, Director of International Affairs for the NHL Players’ Association, echoed Daly’s sense of optimism:
“All parties are committed to making this happen, but there are still key logistical issues to be solved. We have some unique challenges that will require creative solutions.”
Currie and NHLPA colleague Maria Dennis discussed other issues such as travel, insurance, accommodation, and the importance of educating NHL players about the Olympic medical and doping protocol which, as Dennis emphasized, varies from the NHL/NHLPA anti-doping protocol.
IIHF Sports Director Dave Fitzpatrick informed the meeting that teams will be requested to announce tentative rosters five to six weeks before the start of the Olympics.
The rosters for Sochi will be increased by two players from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Teams will be permitted to bring 22 skaters and 3 goaltenders. The earlier regulation limited the rosters at 20+3.
The schedules for both men’s and women’s tournaments will be announced later this month. At the meeting, IOC representatives and officials from Sochi 2014 provided information about Olympic specific regulations, venues, and logistics in Sochi, Russia.