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Throwback Thursday: When NHL players were unsure about going to the Nagano Olympics

Back in 1995, the NHL was lukewarm to the idea of participating in the Olympics in an Asian city where the games wouldn't be in primetime. Sound familiar?

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past. This week, something that may sound familiar -- the NHL debating whether to participate in the Winter Olympics in a far east city.

Back in 1995, the players were lukewarm on heading to Nagano for the 1998 Olympics, and as this story points out, they were more interested in having NHLers make their debut in Salt Lake City in 2002. Of course, we all know that the NHL did go to Japan, but fast forward to today and after having NHLers at the past five Olympics, it remains very unclear if they will be in South Korea in 2018. As you'll read, many of the issues working against NHL participation were the same in 1995 and today.

'Players still cool to Olympic idea'

September 8, 1995 -- Vol. 48, No. 41

By Alan Adams

It could be the 1990’s version of Miracle on Ice.

Considering the problems swirling around the question of NHL participation in 1998 Winter Olympics, it might take a miracle to ice the Dream Tournament in Nagano, Japan.

NHL players are warm to the idea of competing for Olympic gold, but cold to terms set by the NHL, International Ice Hockey Federation and the international Olympic Committee.

With less than a month to go before a decision has to be made, some European officials are referring to Nagano in past tense and are suggesting the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, might be a more realistic goal.

“If it doesn’t work in Nagano, it will work for Salt Lake,” said IIHF president Rene Fasel.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the players hold the trump card.

“If the players want to go, well go,” Bettman told the Boston Globe. “There would be over 100 participants from the NHL. You can’t beat that worldwide exposure.”

Exposure is the key word for the NHL, especially in the United States.

The NHL sees the Nagano Games as a vehicle to get on mainstream television in the U.S. where ratings for the NHL games pale in comparison to the Olympics.

But to get on prime time in the eastern time zone, the opening faceoff would have to be held at 7 a.m. the next morning in Nagano. Good luck telling NHLers they have to get up at 4 a.m. for their pre-game meal.

Fasel says the earliest games could begin is noon in Japan.

Another problem for players is the selection process. There will be no training camp and it’s a known fact that the best players don’t always make the best teams.

“We still have lots of work to do,” said NHL Players’ Association executive director Bob Goodenow, who has canvassed his players and had Fasel meet about a dozen NHLers for two days in July to hear their concerns.

Paul Kariya of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim has played in Japan and told the meeting how difficult it is for the body to adjust to the time change.

“He told the guys it is not so easy,” Fasel said. “If we played in Europe or the U.S. it would be easier.”

Under a preliminary plan worked out by the NHL, IIHF and IOC, the NHL would suspend play for 10 days for the Winter Games. The so-called six Dream Teams would fly in for the second phase of the Nagano tournament featuring round-robin play in two four-team groups followed by semifinals and a final.

Players said they need more time and the NHL’s response was to consider shutting down for two weeks.

The players are concerned about burnout, especially after their return when NHL playoff race begins.

The IIHF wants a final decision by the last week of September.


The Hockey News -- Vol. 48, No. 41


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