By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey writer
HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) – The NHL and its players remain committed to hosting a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, even as they face some unexpected logistical challenges.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Players’ Association’s Mathieu Schneider and their staff are working daily to overcome the hurdles associated with hosting part of the tournament in Europe. There are plans to split the games between Europe and North America once the International Ice Hockey Federation and various national teams are on board.
Even if that doesn’t happen, a World Cup is still possible.
“We’re still planning for that to happen,” Daly told The Associated Press at Thursday’s NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour. “In the worst case, we even believe that we have the ability to make it happen ourselves. Even if we don’t have the full cooperation of the European institutions we want to work with, we have the ability to pull through and execute it ourselves. And if the players want it badly enough, and it seems they want it, I don’t see anything getting in the way of that.”
Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director and retired defense attorney, made it clear that players want the tournament to go ahead and expressed optimism that an agreement can be reached.
“It’s going to be a little longer than we hoped,” he said at last week’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase. “The federations are on board, mainly because we haven’t been to the last few Olympics and I think everyone is dying for it. It’s just trying to put it together. We’ll get there. We’ll get there.”
With the NHL not participating in the last two Olympics, the world’s best players haven’t competed against each other since the 2016 World Cup. And this tournament included a Team Europe made up of players from different countries and a Team North America made up of players from the US and Canada under 23 years old.
“It was fun and cool to be there, but it’s not like playing for your country,” said Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, who hasn’t represented Canada since the 2018 World Cup. “I think the NHL and hockey in general has missed a lot of international play and best-on-best play. That would have been really, really special.”
“We have to find a way to get an international tournament as soon as possible.”
The league and NHLPA will need to work quickly to complete what they envision as an eight-team tournament, which Daly says could include some sort of play-in round.
It has not yet been decided what to do with Russia in view of the war in Ukraine. There is still time before that decision has to be made.
“I certainly don’t feel like we’re up against a wall today to have to make that decision,” Daly said. “But in practice we have to make that decision sometime before February 24. I can’t tell you, as you sit here, whether it’s in a month or in 12 months. At some point in the relatively near future, we will start making these decisions.”
The decision was made to host some matches in Europe, which is different from 2016 when the entire World Cup was held in Toronto.
“People want to see games in Europe,” said Schneider. “The players want to play in Europe. It’s really trying to let the game grow and create that tension.”
February is also the chosen time frame after the 2016 tournament took place in September, a combination of a crowded fall sporting landscape and a desire for a better game on the ice.
“The quality of hockey will be better because the players will be in shape mid-season and it’s the right time of year,” Daly said. “Our fans are kind of conditioned to want to see hockey in February. We think it’s probably the right time from that point of view. If you add to that our understanding, if not our commitment, to regularly participating in the Olympic Games, it fits.”
Players would like to make attending the Olympics as routine as it was from 1998 to 2014. American center Jack Eichel replied, “Don’t hold your breath” when told of the World Cup plans, but he agrees with Team North America teammate McDavid on the benefits of allowing another international competition.
“He’s spot on with that, and I think everyone in the league would probably agree,” Eichel said. “Whether it’s representing your country or having the opportunity to play against the best in the world, everyone wants to do it.”
The NHL plans to have fans on the field around the rink during the outdoor Stadium Series game in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 18 between the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes.
The league’s vision includes a DJ, bars, and a party scene similar to the infield at Auto and some horse racing, which hasn’t been done at an outdoor hockey game.
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