Rene Fasel is more than happy to wait for the NHL to make a decision on whether it will send its players to the 2014 Olympics.
The president of the International Ice Hockey Federation was much quieter on the issue of the Sochi Games than he has been in the past during his annual state of the union session to conclude the world championship.
“I’ve always said our door is wide open,” Fasel said Sunday. “That’s in their hands. Our door is wide, wide open. That’s their decision to make, if they want to come or not.”
Fasel has angered NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the past with his comments about the need for the top players to participate in a fifth straight Olympics. With the league soon expected to open collective bargaining talks with the NHL Players’ Association, Fasel clearly wanted to avoid making any headlines.
The pervasive feeling around the world championship was that the strong desire of NHL players to participate would ultimately ensure that it happens, with one well-placed source saying “there’s no chance” the league would pull out. It’s also thought that the NHL’s relationship with NBC, which broadcasts the Games in the U.S., is another motivating factor behind going to Russia.
However, concessions will have to be made — as Bettman made abundantly clear in a memorable press conference with Fasel at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The league wants more control over the organization of the event and will seek better access for its media platforms, among other things.
Fasel is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, but wouldn’t speculate Sunday on whether that organization was prepared to satisfy the NHL’s demands.
“We will wait and once they make the decision to come, we will sit at the table and make the important decisions,” said Fasel.
On Sunday, the IIHF released the groupings for next year’s world championship. Canada will play its round robin games in Stockholm in a pool with the Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus and Slovenia. The other group will play in Helsinki.
When asked about Canada losing three straight quarter-final games at the tournament by a Russian reporter, Fasel indicated it was disappointing.
“Canada has a real big fanbase in Europe,” said Fasel. “This is the sport — what can you do? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The Canadians came here with a very strong team and they had not a really good day at that special day.
“This is sport.”
Among the other items he touched on:
— As soon as next year, teams may be able to carry 27 players at the world championship. The current roster max is 25.
— He hailed the setup in Sochi, where the hockey arenas and athlete accommodations are all located together in one area. “For the athletes, this will be very convenient,” said Fasel.
— He indicated that the IIHF considered recognizing those killed in the Yaroslavl plane tragedy during this world championship before deciding against it. “We will never forget about that — for sure,” said Fasel. “It will be said for many, many years what happened in Yaroslavl. We still remember.”
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