(ATR) As the IIHF World Championship arrives at the quarterfinal round, NHL stars react to news that the main stakeholders are drawing closer to an agreement allowing the league’s players to compete at Sochi 2014.
United States captain & 2010 Olympic silver medalist Paul Stastny. (ATR)
“We believe that were going to play in Sochi; I don’t think we’re thinking anything else,” said U.S. team captain and 2010 Olympic silver medalist Paul Stastny. “I know it’s tough with the time difference and with TV, but when you have the most important two-week sporting event in the world you want the best athletes from all sports, and I think if you don’t allow the NHL players there, then you’re not going to have the best players in the world there.
“It’s not going to be as special as it was from Nagano in ’98 until 2010,” added Stastny. “I think you want to keep growing the sport, and letting the players play in the Olympics is another step forward.”
Russian three-time Olympian Ilya Kovalchuk also offered his thoughts on the ongoing negotiations.
“I know the NHL is trying to get everything they can to prepare themselves going into Sochi, but the hockey tournament is a main event at the Olympic Games and all the best players have to play there,” said Kovalchuk, who leads the tournament in scoring.
Russian star and New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk. (ATR)
“I’m pretty sure that the smart people who are head of the league and head of the Russian Federation will find a way to get a deal done,” he said.
Representatives from the IOC, Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, NHL, NHL Players Association, IIHF and IIHF National Associations were all present at meetings last Friday in Stockholm. Both IIHF President René Fasel and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly expressed optimism relating to reaching a deal in the near future.
“We are proceeding under the assumption that the NHL will participate in Sochi,” Daly said last week. “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.”
Critical issues that remain unresolved include player insurance with the NHL seeking to have NHL/NHLPA medical personnel assisting at the Games. The NHL is also seeking access to media coverage from the IOC for added exposure and promotion of the league on its own platforms, NHL-TV and NHL.com. Other issues still being discussed include security, officiating and the Olympic drug policy.
2010 Olympian and Slovakian National Team member Tomas Kopecky. (ATR)
Tomas Kopecky of Slovakia is a 2010 Olympian and a two-time NHL Stanley Cup champion.
“The Olympics is all about fair play and the best players in the world competing against each other,” he said. “I’m all for it, so hopefully they’ll reach an agreement soon. Obviously, the league has to shut down for two weeks, but it’s the Olympics. Its everyone’s dream to play in the Olympics.”
World Championship Full of Surprises
With the Sochi 2014 Olympic ice hockey tournament less than nine months away, never before has there been more parity in international hockey, as seen at the world championship in Helsinki and Stockholm. The 16-day tournament, which includes 16 teams, eight each in two pools, has witnessed numerous close contests and upsets. Thirty-seven of the 56 games thus far have been decided by two or fewer goals.
Defending champs Russia and the Unites States at Hartwall Arena. (ATR)
The biggest surprise of the 2013 tournament has been Switzerland, who went 7-0 in the preliminary round in Stockholm, defeating traditional ice hockey powers Sweden, Czech Republic and Canada. Switzerland, who has not won a medal at the world championship since 1953, secured the top seed in Group S and will face the Czech Republic in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Russia, the defending world champions and winners of three of the last five tournaments, suffered a shocking upset to France 2-1, last week in Helsinki. France, who entered the tournament ranked 13th in the world, beat the perennial hockey powerhouse with only one current NHL player on its roster.
USA missed an opportunity to win its group after losing to Slovakia on Tuesday. USA last won a medal in 2004 at the championships and will battle Russia on Thursday.
France pulled a 2-1 upset over Russia. (ATR)
Tournament co-host Finland garnered the top seed in Group H after defeating Latvia in overtime on Tuesday night. The 2011 champions meet Slovakia next.
Finland’s co-host Sweden square off against the 2010 Olympic gold medalists, Canada, on Thursday night in Stockholm.
Tournament semifinals will be contested in Stockholm on Saturday with the bronze and gold medal games to follow Sunday.
Ovechkin Joins the Show
In what will surely lead to enhanced tournament interest and increased TV ratings over the final four days, Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin arrived in Helsinki on Wednesday.
Ovechkin with his gold medal at the 2012 championship. (ATR)
Ovechkin, a two-time Olympian, who is expected to be one of the key players for Team Russia next winter in Sochi, was asked to join the team by the Russian Hockey Federation on Tuesday morning, following his Washington Capitals being eliminated from the NHL Playoffs on Monday night.
The Russian star, who is an official ambassador for Sochi 2014, proclaimed last year that he would participate at the Games, even if the NHL season is not shut down for the two weeks next February.
It will be the ninth appearance at the championships for Ovechkin, who was a member of Russian gold medal winning teams last year and in 2008.
Reported in Helsinki by Brian Pinelli
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