Players set for Games in 2014

Published: Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013 - 10:37 am

NEW YORK – After weeks of tough negotiations, the NHL and its players reached a deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation on Friday to put the season on hold again so the game's biggest stars can compete next year in the Sochi Olympics.

Putting a stop to another season one year after the damaging lockout created a shortened, 48-game campaign was hardly optimal for the NHL. But an agreement was made to allow the top players to participate in the Olympics for the fifth straight time.

"Our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a joint announcement with the players' association. "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."

NHL players first went to the Olympics for the 1998 Nagano Games. Now they will be available to the 12 national teams that will comprise the hockey tournament, Feb. 12-23.

More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete in Sochi while the league takes a 21/2-week break, Feb. 9-26.

"You find out pretty quickly that an Olympic-year schedule is a little more condensed and a little more intense than a typical year," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said during a conference call. "You have to take advantage of your days off because it is condensed."

Friday's announcement paved the way for the NHL to reveal the schedule for the upcoming regular season. That had been held up until a resolution was made on Olympic participation.

The league said Friday the 2013-14 regular season will begin Oct. 1.

With increased logistic issues such as insurance, travel and disruption of the regular season, there is no guarantee NHL players will be back at the Olympics in 2018 and beyond.

Sharks – The team unveiled its 2013-14 schedule – San Jose opens at home Oct. 3 against Vancouver and closes on the road April 12, 2014, in Phoenix – and there's a lot to like.

No trips longer than five games and minimal geographic crisscrossing compared to past years. San Jose also makes one of its Western Canadian swings in November and another in late March – not exactly balmy times up there, but not the middle of bone-chilling winter.

The Sharks play 28 games within the Pacific Division, facing Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, and Los Angeles five times each, and Phoenix and Vancouver four times each.

In addition, the Sharks will play 22 games against the Central Division, facing Colorado four times and Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg three times each.

The other 32 games are home-and-home series between the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, whose divisions are now the Atlantic and Metropolitan.

The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.

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