IIHF leadership excited in Beijing
by Martin Merk|17 FEB 2022
From left to right: Petr Briza, Luc Tardif and Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer address the media during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
photo: Martin Merk
On Thursday morning IIHF President Luc Tardif and IIHF Council members Petr Briza and Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, the chairpersons of the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, met with the press at the Main Media Centre of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing to discuss about the tournaments and other topics in international ice hockey.

“It’s not usual Olympic Games with the preparation and with what happened here on-site. In the first part we were more concerned about Covid than the standings but now as the competitions took place we got exciting competitions with surprises,” summarized Tardif. “At the end the gold medal will always have the same value. To get the gold medal you need to be there, sometimes you can’t be there due to injuries or Covid.”

Olympic women’s hockey tournament growing

Kolbenheyer, who chaired the directorate of the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament, praised the good level of the tournament that was for the first time held with ten teams.

“We wanted to promote women’s ice hockey throughout the season and also had ambassadors who promoted the women’s hockey event. 66 per cent of the IIHF’s social media posts were focused on women’s hockey, which shows that we care about the women’s game,” she said while adding that there is still more work to do to raise the level of play.

“Nine games ended with a goal difference of five goals or more compared to eight at the 2018 Olympics but we also had more games here with the new format. We had six such games at the last Women’s World Championship, which shows that the level is getting higher.”

After the increase from eight to ten teams, she also mentioned thoughts about making the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament even bigger.

“We will evaluate in the future to recommend the IOC to increase the number of women’s teams to 12 teams as on the men’s side because we think that equality is important.”

Challenge accepted for men’s event

Former Olympian and tournament chair Petr Briza underlined the organizational challenges the IIHF faced after the NHL and NHLPA were forced to cancel their participation in December due to COVID-19. He credited the European leagues for their willingness to send their players to compete in Beijing on short notice.

“We had a meeting in January and had a lot of challenges also with testing as players from the countries are across different leagues and they had full schedules. It was a challenge to get the players safely to Beijing but everybody showed great commitment and helped each other. I want to thank the European leagues. There was a question whether we can be successful and we were." 

“The players are really happy to be here and compete. The athletes showed patience, persistence and commitment to our sport. We are happy with the quality. We had some surprises and every tournament needs some surprises. Congrats to Slovakia.”

Praise for organizers

Tardif admitted that organizing an event at this scale during the Covid-19 pandemic and the countermeasures in place was not easy and praised the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (BOCOG).

“BOCOG, our staff, the member national associations and the players really played the game. The organization on the ice was perfect. We struggled a little bit because the Covid protocol was not made for team sports. To play the last game in the league on 1st or 2nd February, have negative tests and fly here was a challenge,” he said. He was happy about fruitful discussions with the IOC, BOCOG and the health authorities to accept taxi squads that made it easier for the teams. “The cooperation with the IOC and BOCOG was really fantastic in a not-so-easy context.”

He also thanked the leagues for their support and flexibility to make it happen and use the Olympics to make the ice hockey more popular in their countries and worldwide.

Hope for the NHL in Milan 2026

The big absentee among the leagues was the NHL, something Tardif hopes to change for the next Olympic Winter Games when the ice hockey tournaments will be played in Milan, Italy. 

“It’s the job of the IIHF to do everything to bring the best players to the competitions. We had an agreement with the NHL but unfortunately Covid decided that it was not possible. With the negotiations with the NHL we have a positive base to be more optimistic for the next Olympic Games,” Tardif said but added that he doesn’t want the same situation in Milan 2026 and have clarity earlier and enough time to organize the competition.

“If they wouldn’t come, it would be a big problem. Everybody was sorry that we couldn’t bring the best players. It was a missed opportunity but we’re ready for the next rendezvous. Even though the NHL didn’t come, we had an agreement and they tried until the end. The agreement is still there and I’m optimistic. They’re following the competition and we will meet each other in March for different topics.”
IIHF Press Conference Beijing 2022
IIHF President Luc Tardif and IIHF Council members Petr Briza and Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, the chairpersons of the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, met with the press at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing on 17 February 2022.
17 FEB 2022

Women’s hockey developments

One topic was the dominance of Canada and the United States in women’s hockey. The countries today faced off in an Olympic women’s ice hockey gold medal game for the sixth time in seven editions. Questions arose whether women’s ice hockey should be played at the Olympics due to Canada and USA's dominance that also exists in several other Olympic sports.

“In Vancouver 2010 some people said if it’s just between Canada and the USA we can stop. But there has been big progress in women’s hockey. The USA will play in the final but they struggled against the Czech Republic and Finland to get there,” he said and reminded that the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship final was played between the USA and Finland after the Finns had eliminated Canada in the semi-finals.

“Leagues in Europe invest, in Russia the KHL invested in a professional women’s league, maybe it can be an idea for the NHL. There’s a big, well-organized league in Sweden. We need to wait that all the work being done will become more visible. We cannot judge the true level of women’s hockey at these Olympic Games because the situation was unusual,” Tardif said.

“I’m convinced and I believe in women’s hockey. We got more teams. Every year one or two more countries are joining the Women’s World Championship.”

About suggestions on having an NHL-backed professional women’s ice hockey league in North America, Tardif said: “We have some topics to discuss and want to quickly come back after the Olympic Games and the difficult season the NHL had.”

The Olympic Games are one of the points concerning the international calendar that could also involve future plans on a World Cup of Hockey as well as the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, which is important for the NHL Entry Draft. For women’s hockey he suggests a similar model like the KHL has with the leagues and men’s professional clubs involved in supporting women’s hockey.

“When the KHL got involved in women’s hockey, the level in Russia went up,” he said. “We try to do our part to open the discussion.”

Growing ice hockey in China

While attendance figures at the two state-of-the-art venues were limited due to Covid-19 countermeasures, the players were able to enjoy a hockey atmosphere with a number of local fans as well as athletes from other sports supporting them in the stands.

“Our job is to bring ice hockey all over the world. I was not skeptical when we came to China but it was difficult to evaluate the impact of this event in China and Asia. When China played Japan 90 million people were watching the broadcast. These numbers are unbelievable,” the IIHF President said about the TV figures for this women’s hockey game.

“We have potential. They built 89 rinks in the last two years. Now they have tools to capitalize on the impact of the Olympic Games. We have 22 member national associations from Asia. After these two Olympic Winter Games in Asia, hockey will not be the same in Asia.”

Tardif hopes to bring more ice hockey events to China in the future.

“We are more prepared to bring ice hockey to China. These Olympic Games were first step. It will be a long-term work. Russia included teams from China in the KHL, the women’s league, minor leagues. If we don’t try, for sure we won’t have success. We want to be in Asia, want an office here and try to work on the development because all the young kids will start. It will take a long time. We have more time in front of us to bring ice hockey to China in a sustainable way. It’s not going to be tomorrow, it will be long term.

Tardif underlined that it’s not the beginning but rather a revival since China has previously qualified for the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournaments in Nagano 1998 and Vancouver 2010 and the men’s team played at Division I level in 2007.

“We don’t start with nothing. They built new rinks and the venues will hopefully be well used for the development of ice hockey. The performance was good, the women’s team won two games. Everybody was worried about the men’s team but they adapted to this level. You need to play such competitions to improve your level.

“I can feel a commitment of the authorities to push and surf on the wave (of the Olympic Games). When you do a competition like that, you want others. It’s important for us to have a good organization in China and we also have a good level in Korea and Japan.”

Briza added that developing players through the own system takes time. “It takes 10, 12, 15 years until the system really produces great hockey players. To have 25 professional players you need thousands of kids to start,” he said. “Team China worked really hard on the participation for these Olympic Games. They played great games. We want to continue cooperating with them and show how to improve hockey. It’s not our task to deliver the fish but to make sure they can catch more fish.”

Behind the ice the IIHF extended its digital offering to the Chinese sports community by launching accounts on the Chinese social networks on Weibo, Wechat, Douyin and Kuaishou and gained over 200,000 new subscribers in China alone during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. The platforms will also be used to make IIHF events more accessible for hockey fans in China with video content from top level events and potential streams of games from the Chinese national teams at IIHF events.

Update on rescheduling January events

Tardif gave an update on rescheduling the tournaments originally planned in January that had to be cancelled. As previously announced they will be rescheduled and the discussions with potential host countries, host cities and the teams are ongoing to find suitable dates and venues for the participants.

“We do it like we did for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship,” he said, referring to the event that was cancelled by the government of Nova Scotia at short notice. “We looked for a solution and we played the tournament in August in Calgary.”

Considering the Covid-19 numbers in January and that the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship had to be cancelled during the event, Tardif said that it was the right decision to cancel the other tournaments before team travel.

The top January event cancelled was the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship that was planned in Linkoping and Mjolby. While the Swedish organizers didn’t have the opportunity to move it to other dates, they hope to host the U18 Women’s Worlds in 2023. To play the 2022 edition another country will jump in.

“It will be played in June in the north of the USA,” said Tardif. Discussions with potential hosts are ongoing and the cities and dates will be announced later once confirmed with the hosts and participating teams.

Tardif also mentioned that the other cancelled women’s U18 events of the divisions below originally foreseen in January in Hungary, Austria and Turkey will also be played in the summer in the same countries.

“Sometimes it just takes time to organize that but the treatment will be the same,” he said.

The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, which had to be stopped during the event, will also be played in summer. “It will be in the middle of August in Alberta. It will be a new competition, which means we forget the results (in December),” Tardif said and confirmed that it will be the same age category as in the original tournament, namely players born in 2002 or younger.

“We are talking with all participants and are negotiating on details. It will be after the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. It will be a hockey festival and the teams are excited to do it,” said Tardif and thanked Hockey Canada and USA Hockey for organizing these two top-level junior events in summer.

Briza added that opposed to the December event relegation may be possible at the tournament in August, which means that the loser of the relegation round will be relegated and replaced with Belarus as promoted teams and that the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia, will be held with 10 teams.

Back to Asia with 3-on-3 at Youth Olympics

The IIHF will return to Asia not only with its own program but also for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games in the Gangwon Province of the Republic of Korea.

Same as during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, ice hockey and other ice sports will be held in the city of Gangneung where the Gangneung Hockey Centre has been used for ice hockey during the years after the Olympics.

Beside the regular ice hockey events, there will again be 3-on-3 tournaments although in a different setup compared to Lausanne 2020.

“We experimented at the Youth Olympics. It was more of a festival of youth and it was really exciting. I think it’s a good tool for development. We talked with the IOC but they wanted it more like a competition with national teams playing rather than mixed nations. This will be our next experience in Gangwon 2024,” Briza said. “3-on-3 is a really important tool for development and to practise ice hockey. A lot of sports did something similar like rugby with seven players, volleyball with beach volleyball, 3-on-3 basketball.”

The advantages for smaller member countries are that it can be played with smaller rosters and at smaller rinks.

“It can be a format adapted to a new audience while we will still always play classic ice hockey.”

Could 3-on-3 ice hockey one day even be part of the real Olympics?

“Sometimes it’s frustrating to be among the first to start at the Olympics, finish last, bring so many players and officials and you can only win six medals opposed to other sports,” Briza said. “It will almost be impossible for Milan 2026 but we have to think for later. We want to try and many countries, also top countries, want to get involved in the process.”

Among other development projects Briza mentioned that the Flying Coaches program will start this year with a pilot. It will bring coaches and staff from top-level countries to smaller associations and mentor them. Coaches from the United States travelling to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as Russian coaches going to Russian-speaking countries will make the start.

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games continued with the women’s ice hockey gold medal game on the same day. The men’s semi-finals between Finland and Slovakia and between ROC and Sweden will be played on Friday followed by the bronze medal game on Saturday and the gold medal game on Sunday as last event in Beijing prior to the closing ceremony.