NHL season put on hold after deal struck to allow players to compete at 2014 Sochi Games
Agreement reached on halt, so big stars can compete in 2014 Winter Olympics
Associated Press in New York
After weeks of tough negotiations, the NHL and its players reached a deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation to put the season on hold again so their biggest stars can compete next year in the Sochi Olympics.
Halting another season one year after the damaging lockout that created a shortened, 48-game campaign was hardly an optimal plan for the NHL. But an agreement was made to allow the top players to take part in their fifth consecutive Olympics.
"Our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a joint announcement with the players' association. "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."
NHL players first went to the Olympics for the 1998 Nagano Games. Now they will be available to the 12 national teams that will comprise the hockey tournament from February 12-23. More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete in Sochi, while the league takes a break for 21/2 weeks from February 9 to 26.
"You find out pretty quickly that an Olympic-year schedule is a little more condensed and a little more intense than a typical year," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You have to take advantage of your days off because it is condensed.
"Playing that condensed schedule then going right into basically a pretty intense play-off atmosphere, every game is like a game seven. Then coming back from that, you basically go from being at that level of intensity to the regular-season games."
Crosby is a veteran of this type of schedule, having served as an alternate captain at the 2010 Vancouver Games when Canada captured the gold medal. Crosby scored the "Golden Goal" in overtime against the United States to win the championship.
"It's gone by really fast," he said. "With injuries and stuff like that, too, it wasn't like there were three full hockey seasons to kind of look back on. It's exciting. You start to think about it with it being announced that we're going.
"Everyone thought it was just a matter of time, working out the logistics," he said. "With it being a little further in Russia, I'm sure there was a little bit more work to do. I'm glad that we're going, and obviously excited to kind of start the process." Soon enough he will shoot for a golden repeat.
"When you play for Canada, that's the expectation," Crosby said. "You realise pretty quickly that people come together that time of year especially. When it's hockey even more so. You want to go there and find a way to win gold."