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Done deal: NHL to participate in 2014 Winter Olympics

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After a lengthy negotiation, the NHL, NHLPA, IIOC and IIHF have reached an agreement for NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman 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.”

Highlights of the agreement include a 16-day Olympic break (from Feb. 9-26) in the NHL schedule. The league will also be represented by seven referees and six linesmen working in Sochi, while the games will be played on international-sized rinks (60 x 30 meters).

This will mark the fifth consecutive winter games the NHL has participated in. Involvement dates back to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the first in which professional players were allowed to take part.

“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,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “Having the opportunity to wear their nation’s sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to.”

Here are the three groups for the Winter Olympics, and the schedule:

Group A Group B Group C
Russia Austria Czech Republic
Slovenia Canada Latvia
Slovakia Finland Switzerland
United States Norway Sweden
Men’s Preliminary Round Schedule
WED, FEB 12
1 12:00 PM ET Czech Republic vs. Sweden
2 12:00 PM ET Latvia vs. Switzerland
THU, FEB 13
3 3:00 AM ET Finland vs. Austria
4 7:30 AM ET Russia vs. Slovenia
5 7:30 AM ET Slovakia vs. United States
6 12:00 PM ET Canada vs. Norway
FRI, FEB 14
7 3:00 AM ET Czech Republic vs. Latvia
8 7:30 AM ET Sweden vs. Switzerland
9 12:00 PM ET Canada vs. Austria
10 12:00 PM ET Norway vs. Finland
SAT, FEB 15
11 3:00 AM ET Slovakia vs. Slovenia
12 7:30 AM ET United States vs. Russia
13 12:00 PM ET Switzerland vs. Czech Republic
14 12:00 PM ET Sweden vs. Latvia
SUN, FEB 16
15 3:00 AM ET Austria vs. Norway
16 7:30 AM ET Russia vs. Slovakia
17 7:30 AM ET Slovenia vs. United States
18 12:00 PM ET Finland vs. Canada
Qualification play-off – TUE, FEB 18
19 3:00 AM ET TBD
20 7:30 AM ET TBD
21 12:00 PM ET TBD
22 12:00 PM ET TBD
Quarterfinals – WED, FEB 19
23 3:00 AM ET TBD
24 7:30 AM ET TBD
25 12:00 PM ET TBD
26 12:00 PM ET TBD
Semifinals – FRI, FEB 21
27 7:00 AM ET TBD
28 12:00 PM ET TBD
Bronze Medal Game – SAT, FEB 22
29 10:00 AM ET TBD
Gold Medal Game – SUN, FEB 23
30 7:00 AM ET TBD

Related

USA Hockey names Dan Bylsma head coach of 2014 men’s Olympic team

Selanne, Rask highlight Finland’s Olympic Camp roster

Sedins, Zetterberg highlight Sweden’s ’14 Olympic camp roster

Four key position battles for ’14 Winter Olympics

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal