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International Ice Hockey Federation president Luc Tardif said Thursday he is optimistic NHL players will participate in the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina, though he wants an agreement reached further in advance than this time around.

The league, NHL Players’ Association, IIHF and IOC worked out a deal for the 2022 Games that was not announced until September. The NHL withdrew in late December after the omicron variant-fueled wave of the coronavirus pandemic caused mass postponements of games, making this the second consecutive Olympics without the world’s best hockey players.

Tardif said he would like an agreement more than a year in advance of the 2026 tournament. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by e-mail that league officials do not anticipate an issue reaching an agreement “on a relatively expedited basis.”

Opinion: Olympic men’s hockey doesn’t matter if the NHL isn’t there

The NHL has not participated in the Olympics since 2014, ending a run of five appearances in a row dating to 1998. Players did not take part in 2018 because of disagreements over the costs of insurance and travel.

Tardif also said the men’s world junior championship and women’s under-18 tournament will happen this summer after being cancelled in December because of the pandemic. Tardif said world juniors will take place in August in Canada and the women’s under-18 in June in the United States.

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