By Barry Janoff
July 21, 2013: In 2010, members of the NHL played for their respective national teams in the Winter Games, including players from the U.S. and Canada. Ultimately, those two nations played for the gold medal, with Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal for Canada in a game that was seen on NBC by more than 27.6 million viewers.
That game, and the entire hockey competition throughout the Games in Vancouver helped drive fan and marketing interest in the sport that carried into the second half of the 2010-11 campaign.
Now, coming out of a season that was cut in half due to a lockout but ended with strong Stanley Cup playoff ratings, marketing support and on-ice competition, the NHL and the NHL Players Assn. have reached an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation that enables players to participate in the 2014 Winter Games.
NHL players will be available to the 12 participating IIHF member national associations for the men's Olympic ice hockey tournament (Feb. 12-23, 2014). This will mark the fifth consecutive timethat NHL players have participated in the Olympics, dating back to Nagano in 1998.
More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete for their respective nations in Sochi.
NBCUniversal, the Olympics rights holder in the U.S., and Canadian Olympic rights holder CBC/Radio-Canada will lead coverage in their respective countries. Schedules for each network will be released at a later date.
The NHL's 1,230-game schedule will pause from Feb. 9-25, 2014, while NHL players comprise the majority of the rosters of the national teams competing in Sochi for Olympic gold. As in 2010, the NHL will forgo its All-Star Game.
The U.S. is in Group A with Russia, Slovenia and Slovakia. Canada is in Group B with Austria, Finland and Norway. Group C includes the Czech Republic, Latvia, Switzerland and Sweden.
"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," Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, said in a statement. "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."
According to Don Fehr, NHLPA executive director, "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."
"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."
The NHL said that the season would began on Oct. 1 and that the Stanley Cup playoffs would start April 16, 2014.
The league also confirmed dates for its outdoor games, which expands to six next season: The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic and the four-game 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic
• Jan. 1: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings in Michigan Stadium (NBC)
Coors Light NHL Stadium Series
• Jan. 25: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings in Dodger Stadium (NBC Sports Network)
• Jan. 26: New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils in Yankee Stadium (NBC)
• Jan. 29: New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders in Yankee Stadium (NBC Sports Network)
• March 1: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks in Soldier Field (NBC Sports Network)
2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic
• March 2: Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks in BC Place (NBC Sports Network)