TORONTO — The World Cup of Hockey is coming back, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insists that doesn’t necessarily mean the league will skip the 2018 Olympics.
“I don’t think one has anything to do with the other,” Bettman said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
While Bettman didn’t sound enthused about the idea of the league’s players going to Pyeongchang, South Korea, he is intrigued by the prospect of taking the sport to the other side of the world in 2022.
“The possibility of being at an Olympics in China is something we have to look at very carefully,” Bettman said in the NHL’s Toronto-based office. “There may be a lot of opportunities to grow the game quicker than any other way possible based on the nature of the way the Chinese government focuses on sports and initiatives.
“Not to diminish South Korea, but in terms of sheer magnitude, it’s not the same as China.”
International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said that, having established roots in North American and Europe, hockey’s best shot to grow is in Asia.
“If we can make our sport strong there, we really will have a great future,” Fasel said in a telephone interview.
Fasel said he is working on a date to begin Olympic-related discussions with Bettman and NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr.
Bettman, Fehr and several players attended a news conference Wednesday to promote the World Cup of Hockey, which hasn’t been held since 2004. The eight-team, two-week tournament event will be held in Toronto, where the host Canadians will likely be a strong favorite against a field that includes the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
There also will be 23-and-under players from North America and from European countries such as Switzerland, Slovenia and Germany.
NHL players have competed in the Olympics since 1998, creating an elite event that has become one of the sport’s most popular.
While participating players enjoy the experience, team owners don’t seem to like shutting down their league for two-plus weeks in the middle of the season while hoping their stars don’t get injured at the Olympics.
“If you want to grow the game globally, you have to take risks every four years that some of your top players will be injured,” Fasel said.