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Bettman responds to IIHF president’s Olympic decision deadline

The 2022 Beijing Olympics remains a hot topic between the NHL and NHLPA with the league seeing participation as disruptive and the players eager to represent their countries.

During his All-Star Weekend press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that while the league was comfortable with not going to Pyeongchang in 2018 he wouldn’t definitively shut the door on 2022.

“I can’t say that with certainty, not to give people false hope,” Bettman said. “I know the Players’ Association still maintains a strong preference for going. I know the IIHF still is focused on engaging with us and I think even wants to have a meeting at some point in the not too distant future. From our standpoint, we believe and our experience both with going to five Olympics and then not going to Pyeongchang tells us that going is extraordinarily disruptive to the season. I won’t take you through the litany of reasons why, you’ve all heard me say it. I know it maintains itself as a priority for the Players’ Association, but having said that we were very comfortable with not going Korea.”

IIHF president Rene Fasel said earlier this month that he’d like an answer from the NHL by August. Bettman isn’t ready to give him one any time soon.

“[Fasel] also said last summer he wanted an answer by December and he didn’t get one,” Bettman said. “We’re going to have to see. I actually think the deadline is really more one that we would have to impose, in terms of logistics. My guess is at a point in time we said we wanted to go and we could handle the timing of it, my guess is the IIHF could as well. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take Rene seriously, but as I said he already gave us one deadline and it came and went.”

Among the many logistics that need to be worked out if the NHL were to go includes the schedule, which is created well in advance of the season. When would Bettman see a potential deadline set by the league laid down? He isn’t sure.

“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it, when we get there,” he said. “Obviously, first and foremost, it has to do with releasing a schedule. That’s the game-changer one way or the other.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

IIHF president gives NHL deadline on Olympic participation decision

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IIHF president Rene Fasel has given the NHL and NHLPA a deadline to decide whether players will be at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Speaking at World Junior Championship this past weekend, Fasel said he would like an answer from Commissioner Gary Bettman by the end of August.

“We would like to have a decision as early as possible if they’re coming to Beijing – ‘Yes’ or ‘No,'” Fasel said. “In Pyeongchang there was a late ‘No.’ Especially the North American teams, U.S. and Canada, had some problems to find the players and to build up a good team.

“If there is a ‘No,’ these teams should have time to prepare a competitive team to go to the Olympics in 2022. We want to have an early answer from NHLPA and NHL if they’re coming or not.”

The NHL announced in April 2017 — 10 months before the opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang — that players would not be going to the Games in South Korea.

Nine countries have already qualified for the men’s tournament with the final three spots to be decided in August during the qualifying tournament. Fasel is hoping for an answer from the NHL before pucks drops.

“We are working on an early decision made by the NHL and NHLPA,” Fasel said. “We need to know before that.”

NHL players participated in five straight Games from 1998 to 2014, but the league passed on going to Pyeongchang in 2018 citing costs and having to shut down midseason for two weeks. The League has been looking into hosting another World Cup of Hockey, which was last held in Toronto in 2016. A 2020 edition was postponed due to labor uncertainty and last month Bettman announced there will be no tournament in 2021.

“The Olympics is a unique platform we can use, especially in Asia, with the best on best format,” said Fasel, who is set to step down as IIHF president in 2020. “Asia represents two-thirds of the world’s population. I consider Gary a smart person. At the end he will come, I hope.”

It’s clear that NHL players want to go to Beijing, but the owners have not been keen on the idea. We’ll see how big of a topic it becomes in the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. We’ll also wait and see just how serious Bettman and the NHLPA take this deadline from Fasel, especially knowing how much the IIHF wants NHL players to participate.

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World Anti-Doping Agency imposes 4-year ban on Russia

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman: NHL will discuss video review; no China preseason games in 2019

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BOSTON — There will plenty for the NHL’s Competition Committee and the League’s 31 general managers to discuss when both groups meet on separate dates next month, but the leading topic of discussion will be what to do with video review.

As we know, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured plenty of officiating controversies, highlighted by the missed hand pass by San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final that immediately lead to Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner against the St. Louis Blues. No one, outside of the Sharks and their fans, was happy with the missed called and the officials’ inability to review the play.

Meeting with the media ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that feedback will be solicited from the appropriate parties and then discussions will begins to either tweak the video review process or leave it unchanged.

“Consistency is going to be as important as anything else,” said Bettman, who also noted the League is concerned with slowing the game down. “We understand from the track record what the issue are and where the problems can be in implementation.”

What won’t happen is a reduction in what plays can be reviewed. “I don’t think you can go backwards anymore. That ship has sailed,” Bettman said.

NO CHINA GAMES IN 2019-20

China is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in the fall, which put a wrinkle in the NHL trying to finalize arrangements to hold preseason games in the country again next season. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames played two games in September as part of the League’s strategy to grow the game over there.

But the NHL is still attempting to have a presence in China in 2019.

“We’re going to double down on our efforts in China. We’re going to really ramp up our presence there,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Hopefully including over this summer with player visits and league visits, Players’ Association visits and the like. We’re going to continue to invest in grassroots and school programs and continue to fuel growth of youth hockey in China.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Bettman also responded to IIHF president Rene Fasel’s quote over the weekend at the World Championship that said he’d like to set a September 2020 deadline for the league to make a commitment to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. Bettman said nothing has been communicated to the league regarding that yet.

CBA DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have continued having dialogue in hopes of avoiding another work stoppage at the end of the 2021-22 season. In September, both sides have the option to end the agreement one year early — after the 2020-21 season — but there’s still a long way to go before any final decisions are made.

“We both recognize what’s at stake come September in terms of each of us having unilateral right to shorten the agreement and have it expire in 2020, as opposed to 2022,” said Daly.

“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown, there’s a lot to be said for labor peace, and that’s something we’re very focused on,” Bettman said. “If you asked the Players’ Association, [Don Fehr] could list 10 or 15 things he’d like to change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We could probably do the same thing but ultimately this is going to come down to what’s most important.”

Talks between the sides will continue this summer.

“Everybody has their own thoughts It depends on what happens,” said Fehr. “We’ve got a board meeting in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll have player meetings all summer long. If we need another board meeting the end of August, first month of September, we will.”

NHL AND WOMEN’S HOCKEY

The NHL will continue watching as the “dust settles” in women’s hockey now that the CWHL has folded and 200 professional players have declared they will sit out the 2019-20 season in hopes of a long-term, economically viable solution Is found in North America.

“Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with a league, at least starting our own league, is something that not everybody agrees on from afar and it’s not anything we’ve focused on yet,” said Bettman.

The NHL was involved in set up the U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series in February and included Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast in NHL All-Star Weekend in January. Bettman said in the meantime they will continue to be involved in one-off ideas.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jim Paek helping lead the growth of hockey in South Korea

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Jim Paek bowed his head and pumped both fists as one of his assistants, former NHLer Richard Park, celebrated beside him. Sanghoon Shin’s shootout goal versus Ukraine during last April’s Division I – Group A IIHF World Championship didn’t secure just any win — it was a victory that meant South Korea would continue its rise in international hockey and be promoted to the top division for the 2018 tournament, playing against the likes of the United States, Canada and Finland.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOSRbGc9DDs?start=102%5D

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Three months after wrapping up the 2010-11 American Hockey League season as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Paek’s home country of South Korea was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. Three years later, the Seoul native was tapped to become the country’s men’s ice hockey coach.

Before he accepted the job, Paek reached out Curt Fraser, a fellow assistant in Grand Rapids and former head coach of the Belarusian national team. Fraser bestowed plenty of wisdom from his two-year international experience.

“It’s a different world. North American hockey, NHL hockey, American League hockey to international, you’re stepping into a different territory,” Paek recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “He gave me some great advice on how to control it, what to look for, how to prepare yourself, those type of things. But the biggest thing is he said, ‘Jim, it’s a great experience for you,’ and it sure has been. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this.”

[‘Olympics Are a Start’: Stanley Cup Winner Builds New South Korean Hockey Dreams]

Paek’s playing career ended in 2003, and as he got closer to hanging up his skates he knew he wanted to stay involved in the sport. He loved teaching, which showed when as a veteran player he would do extra work with young teammates after practices. He knew the next step in his hockey life would be to enter the coaching ranks. His start came with a year in the World Hockey Association 2 and then a season behind the bench with an Ohio high school team. In 2005, he moved up the ranks as an assistant on Greg Ireland’s staff in Grand Rapids.

From ‘Badger’ Bob Johnson to Scotty Bowman, Paek was educated by some of the game’s best coaches, and each have had an influence on his approach and style today.

“To be able to have those great coaches coach me, I’d be a fool not to take the positives from what they taught,” he said. “But I think the key component to that is what I’ve tried to do is take all the positives from all the coaches that I’ve know over the years, all the way to even my minor atom amateur days, to all the way up to my coaching days [with] Jeff Blashill, so a combination of everybody, but to try to make it your own and not be them. Not be a ‘Badger’ Bob, not be a Scotty Bowman — try to fit that into my personality and use that in a positive way.”

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As Paek and South Korea await their first Olympic game on Feb. 15, the preparation continues. Earlier this month they participated in the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge, losing their three games to Denmark, Norway and host Austria. In December they’ll travel to Moscow for the Channel One Cup and play against Canada, Finland and Sweden. It’s getting to be crunch time and these games erve as valuable experience for his players.

Most of the roster is set, which will feature a mix of South Koreans and Americans and Canadians. Some would call the North American players who came over and earned citizenship to join the national team “imports,” but Paek sees it differently.

“I really don’t like that term ‘imports,’” he said. “The Canadian guys and American players that we have have been in this country for many years… Brock Radunske has been here like eight years. He’s been here longer than me. In my eyes I see 25 Korean players that are playing hockey in Korea, that are preparing for the Olympics, their dreams, their goals.”

Those North Americans who came over aren’t ringers. As Paek said, most have been in South Korea for years and used their time in the Asia League Ice Hockey to grow and develop the sport. They’ve adjusted to life in a new country, become immerse in the culture and helped improve the quality of hockey.

“With their experiences, they came over and they set the standard and have tried to get the Korean players up to that level and that standard,” Paek said. “They’ve done a great job in doing that when they came over. With the Asian league being here and allowing those Canadian players to come over and participate in the Asian league, sure, it’s helped tremendously, along with so many other things [like] the Korean players’ willingness to improve and develop and work extremely hard to get better in their own right. There’s a combination of a lot of things, and initially when they came over to raise the standard it’s been great.

“As we move forward, it’s everybody helping each other. It’s Korean guys helping the Canadian guys and the Canadian guys helping the Korean guys as a team does.”

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Since being awarded the 2018 Winter Games and given automatic berths into the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments, South Korea has made a focused effort on raising the interest level in hockey in the country. A four-year, $20 million investment plan backed by the Korean Ice Hockey Federation (KIHA), South Korean government, International Olympic Committee and national sponsors was vital, and over the last seven years the participation numbers from youth to adult have been on the rise.

According to statistics provided by the KIHA, the number of registered boys and girls 12 and under has grown from 897 in 2011 to 2,132 in 2017. Growth in other age groups such as U15, U18, U23 and 24 and older have also increased, a trend that started before Paek’s arrival in 2014.

PHT

The growing numbers in the 12 and under group is a promising sight. The country’s collective efforts have worked and the impact of those youth players seeing South Korea in Olympic hockey tournaments will only help increase those numbers going forward.

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“Thank God.” 

That was Paek’s first thought after Shin’s promotion-clinching goal. He then recalled all of the support he’d received from family and friends and the coaches who influenced him along the way. As he stood on the bench, he saw his players celebrating a mission accomplished. There was a lot of work to be done when he was hired in 2014, and in that moment the program went from making baby steps to taking one giant leap.

As his staff embraced around him, Paek knew that he what he had just witnessed would have a major impact on hockey in South Korea.

“It was just a very emotional time for me, just like a proud father would be,” he said. “It was a tremendous moment in Korean hockey for me personally, and for the country also. To see that and everybody’s efforts that they put into it, sure made me happy.”

Grouped with the Czech Republic, Canada and Switzerland, South Korea’s Olympic gold medal hopes are currently listed at 500/1. No one is expecting the Disney movie ending, but they’ll be one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Even before the NHL decided against sending its players, they were going to be a fan favorite based on their underdog status.

And no matter how the tournament plays out, South Korea has already won, according to Paek.

“You know, success right now, I think we have succeeded,” says Paek. “Being able to start where we started and being able to play in the Olympics at a world stage in front of this competition, in front of these countries, we’ve succeeded. That’s in my eyes. Anything we do beyond that is gravy. But our players aren’t satisfied and we’re preparing extremely hard to win, and that’s what we do and that’s what anybody does. You don’t prepare to lose, so we’re trying our best and we’re working extremely hard to be successful.

“The players are very proud to represent their country, and hopefully that’ll show and the people of Korea will be very proud of our hockey players.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

IIHF backs Russia’s participation in Pyeongchang Olympics

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The International Ice Hockey Federation doesn’t want to see hockey suffer at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

With the International Olympic Committee set to rule on whether Russia can compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games next week, the IIHF threw its support behind Russia’s “clean” athletes on Tuesday.

The IIHF released a statement on the matter on Tuesday, stating that they “oppose” the use of collective punishment in what they called a “unanimous opinion.”

The IOC will rule on the matter on Dec. 5.

The statement, which can be read in full below, said that “punitive measures” the IOC is seeking against Russia would put the “health of ice hockey at risk.”

The IIHF Council has reached a unanimous opinion that all clean athletes, including those from Russia, must be permitted to represent their country in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

We oppose the use of collective punishment in the case of Russian athletes. Although we recognize the need to confront doping in sport, Olympic participation should not be used to sanction the many for the actions of the few. In addition, the extent to which the IOC is seeking punitive measures in the case of Russia is putting the health of ice hockey at risk.

Russia’s role in the growth and development of ice hockey cannot be understated. This country forms a pillar on which our sport’s legacy rests upon.

To preserve the integrity of the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, the IIHF in full cooperation with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the Kontinental Hockey League initiated a highly structured testing program for the KHL, MHL, and WHL, which went into operation in December 2016 and up to the present has tested nearly 400 Russian players.

To this effect, the IIHF Council reiterates its position that clean athletes from all qualified Federations should be permitted to go to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and represent their countries.

“We wanted to outline our position clearly to the IOC, that we are against a collective punishment approach that would unfairly punish many Russian athletes that had nothing to do with doping,” said IIHF President René Fasel in a release.

The potential punishment that could be levied against Russia stems from the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

The World Anti-Doping Agency claims Russia’s athletes were involved in a state-backed doping program to help boost their medal count at their chances of success at their home Games.

Last week, Hockey Canada, along with the hockey federations in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic sent a letter to the Kontinental Hockey League, encouraging the league not to withhold its players from the games in protest for the potential sanctions of Russia’s Pyeongchang participation.

The move by the KHL would have a widespread effect on the composition of hockey teams heading to the Games. The CBC reported last week that “sixteen members of Canada’s 25-man-roster at the recent Karjala Cup in Finland play in the KHL, including goalie Ben Scrivens and forwards Wojtek Wolski and Teddy Purcell.”

Fasel said the KHL is obliged to release any players of any nationality.

NHL players will not be permitted to play in the Olympics, which run from Feb. 9 to Feb. 26.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck