US hockey officials 'hopeful' of NHL stars at Olympics

Los Angeles (AFP) – United States Olympic hockey officials on Tuesday expressed optimism that NHL stars would play at the 2022 Beijing Games amid mounting concerns that Covid-19 may persuade players not to participate.


At a press briefing to mark the naming of the Minnesota Wild's Bill Guerin as the US team's general manager for Beijing, US officials said they were "fully focused" on sending a full-strength team to China.

National Hockey Players won the right to play at the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics in a new collective bargaining agreement signed in 2020, after players were not released for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

However the Covid-19 pandemic has cast a shadow over NHL players' participation in Beijing in February.

NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr said on Saturday that a lack of "concrete answers" from Beijing Games officials about Covid-19 protocols, including quarantine rules, was creating uncertainty among players.

Speaking on a video conference call on Tuesday, USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said that, although officials received fresh guidelines on Monday, they were still awaiting clarity on quarantine rules for any player testing positive for Covid-19 in China.

"We received an updated playbook yesterday and we continue to grind through it," Kelleher said.

"We're working with the NHL, and the NHLPA. We are certainly hopeful that all systems will be go by the time we get ready to go to Beijing.

"But there's certainly work to be done. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to be discussed and hopefully answered so that everybody can feel the best about sending the best players from the NHL."

Kelleher said USA Hockey was waiting to receive "finalization" over quarantine rules from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

A report in the Toronto Star last week said a player testing positive for Covid-19 in China would need to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart, or possibly face a quarantine period lasting from 21 days to five weeks.

It was not clear where that quarantine would take place.

Newly-appointed US team general manager Guerin said it was possible players may choose not to go to Beijing.

"Part of our responsibility is to make sure they feel comfortable going,to get all the information we can and pass it along to them," Guerin said.

"The last thing we want to do is put anyone in harm's way.

"To give the players a comfort level that they're going to be taken care of and looked after is very important."

US team assistant general manager Chris Drury meanwhile said he was not aware of players declining to play in Beijing.

"Obviously it's an evolving situation, but I think to date there hasn't been much talk of that," he said.

"But things change and we'll see where we are when we go to pick the team."

John Vanbiesbrouck, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey and a member of the 2022 coaching staff, said officials were working on the assumption that the US team would be made up of NHL players.

"We're putting our full focus on our NHL players going," Vanbiesbrouck said.

If NHL players opted out, the US would look to send a team drawn from the American Hockey League, US professionals playing in Europe and college players.

"That would likely be our player pool," he said. "But we are focused on Plan A, and hopefully we get there."