While it seemed a foregone conclusion that NHL players would be allowed to represent their respective countries at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it became official on Friday as the NHL and NHL Players Association reached an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee, according to NHL.com.
The latest NHL collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified this past season, did not address the Olympic situation. Despite that, it always seemed likely that the NHL would have Olympic involvement due to the players' desire to take part.
Luckily for hockey fans across the world, the situation has been settled.
NHL players have competed in the Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Games, so it has truly become a part of the NHL's identity. It isn't often that the world's best players get to compete against each other since the World Cup of Hockey is no longer in existence, so the Olympics are really the only chance that NHL players have to play for their countries on a big stage.
Although Olympic participation will force the NHL to halt the 2013-14 season from Feb. 9 through Feb. 26, commissioner Gary Bettman is thrilled that an arrangement was reached.
The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage. 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.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr echoed Bettman's sentiments as playing in the Olympics is a huge victory for the players.
The Players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world's best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February. Having the opportunity to wear their nation's sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to.
Canada took gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, as it held off an upstart United States team in overtime of the gold-medal game thanks to a clutch goal from Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. Both teams will very much be in contention in 2014, as will host country Russia, which will play in the same group as Team USA.
The tournament will begin on Feb. 12 and run through Feb. 23, which is when the gold-medal game will be contested.
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