SOCHI, Russia – Rene Fasel is on a mission to keep hockey in the Olympics as compelling and competitive as possible, and it’s going to be a tougher task for the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation in the next four years.
The NHL and the players’ union have not committed to the next Olympics, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.
“I’m going to work hard and do the best I can to get the NHL and NHL players in Pyeongchang,” Fasel said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I will do everything I can – seven days a week – until a decision is made.
“But ultimately, that decision will be made by them.”
By “them,” of course, he means NHL owners and its players.
Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider doesn’t like freezing the league for two weeks or so in the middle of the season – when the NFL is idle and the NCAA tournament is a month away – and risking injury to his players without a tangible return.
“It’s ridiculous,” Snider said last week. “There’s no benefit to us whatsoever.”
NHL players, however, might be universally in favor of having a chance every four years to play for their country, and to mingle with Olympians from around the world.
“To take that away would be unfortunate,” U.S. captain Zach Parise said. “From my standpoint, I love playing here.”
The NHL doesn’t seem to mind as much when the Olympics are in North America – as they were in 2010 and 2002 – but it’s less tolerant to do it when the games are overseas as they were in 1998, 2006 and this year.
And the next two Winter Games are not in the U.S. or Canada.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman arrives in Russia on Feb. 17, the day before the playoff portion of the 12-nation tournament begins. Fasel said he and Bettman will be staying at the same hotel.
Donald Fehr, head of the players’ union, also will be part of the discussions about the future of the world’s best hockey players participating in the Olympics.
“I don’t think we have any meeting scheduled yet, but I am sure we will get together when we are all here,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote Tuesday in an email to the AP.
Fasel sounds ready to make his pitch.
“Most of the NHL players want to play in the Olympics and win a gold medal,” Fasel said. “Everybody wants to win a Stanley Cup, but you can play for that every year. An Olympic gold medal is something special – it’s so different than all the other championships in hockey – and you can only do it every four years.”