The tournament will still involve 12 teams, but will feature 30 games instead of the 38 played at the 2006 Games in Turin, said Cathy Priestner Allinger, executive vice-president for sport for the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee.
“Following Turin there was concern by the NHL and the NHLPA there were too many games in the tournament,” said Priestner Allinger. “This put a lot of stress on the players, especially coming back and having to join the NHL again.”
All but two of the games will be played at GM Place, home of the NHL Vancouver Canucks.
A source in the NHL confirmed the changes, which followed meetings between the league, the players’ association and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The Games being held in Canada will make it easier for players to arrive in Vancouver before the tournament starts and return to their teams once the Olympics are over.
The Vancouver Olympics begin Friday, Feb. 12 and end on Sunday, Feb. 28.
Priestner Allinger said the first games of the 13-day tournament are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16. In Turin, the first game wasn’t played until the Wednesday.
The gold medal game will be on the final Sunday of the Games.
The NHL will play games up to Sunday Feb. 14. Players are expected to begin arriving in Vancouver on the Sunday night and Monday morning.
“It gives them a bit of adjustment time to arrive here and start the tournament,” said Priestner Allinger.
During the Turin Games the 12 teams were divided into two groups.
In the preliminary round, teams played opponents within their group for a total of five games each. The top four teams from each group advanced to the quarter-finals, playing a cross-over format. The quarter-final winners advanced to the semifinal round, which determined the match-ups for the gold and bronze medal games.
Priestner Allinger said reducing the number of games was a good idea.
“I think it will be a good format,” she said. “Out of respect for the athletes it is the right thing to do for the players so they can join the Games, be in top form and yet go back and finish out their season.
“It is a good solution for the athletes which is what you always try to do in an Olympic Games.”
VANOC still has not signed an agreement with GM Place for the Olympics.
“We are close to finalizing our agreement with them,” said Priestner Allinger. “We’re hoping to finish up all the negotiations and discussions short and be able to move ahead.”