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Travel proves major sticking point for NHLers’ participation in Sochi

In this photo dated Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, the outside view of the Bolshoy ice dome, main ice hockey arena, at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Igor Yakunin/AP

Getting the NHL to commit to the 2014 Sochi Olympics is still being negotiated. Getting NHL players in and out of the Russian resort is a major sticking point.

While there are several contentious matters to be resolved before NHLers are cleared for Olympic take-off, transporting the players, coaches and staff to and from Sochi ranks "among the top three issues," said a source. The problem is the potential for inclement weather, including fog, and that there are few serviceable airports nearby to get the players back to North America in time for the resumption of the NHL regular season.

As it stands, the 2014 Olympics run Feb. 7-23, which means the NHL will have to shut down for approximately 18 days to accommodate a fifth participation in the Olympic hockey tournament. Given Sochi's location and weather challenges – it is situated on the shores of the Black Sea next to the Caucasus Mountains – extra days may be needed to get out of Sochi. That could see the NHL resuming its regular season with some of its best players still in transit.

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NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was in Sochi last week to meet with officials from the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers to continue negotiations. He visited the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena and said he hoped "to be in a position to bring a recommendation to our [NHL] owners sometime this month … by the end of this month."

Asked Wednesday if travel was a significant part of those negotiations, Daly replied in an e-mail, "Travel for players is a meaningful aspect of our ongoing discussions."

Presently, the NHL is looking at getting players out of Sochi as soon as their teams are eliminated from play. The players would be flown out by private jets to one of four to six select cities. Details are still being worked out.

One source suggested the NHL is willing to risk weather-related travel delays providing other matters are resolved. The NHL wants access to the rights and images of its players at the Olympics. Currently, those rights belong to the IOC, whose rules prohibit Canadian-based NHL teams from showing Sidney Crosby's golden goal from 2010 on arena video screens. The NHL is also looking for a better class of treatment, in terms of insurance, hospitality for player and owner guests and ticket availability. That U.S. television network NBC has the broadcast rights to the Sochi Olympics, as well as the U.S. rights to NHL games, should help bring the two sides to an agreement.

Still, no one can guarantee co-operative weather, a point proven last month when outdoor test events held in Sochi were either postponed or cancelled due to a variety of conditions (warm temperatures, rain, freezing rain, snow).

The NHL Players' Association must also approve the NHL's decision to compete in Sochi but is expected to do so.

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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