Deal close to send NHLers to Sochi Olympics

It appears the NHL players may end up in Sochi after all.

In the hours leading up to Hockey Canada unveiling Toronto and Montreal as joint hosts of the 2015 and 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships, the upper management of the sport’s governing body huddled at Air Canada Centre Thursday, finalizing logistics and details for NHL players to take part in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll have a formal agreement done,” Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. “We certainly have our sights that the NHL players will be there, but we still have to get that done with the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association.

“I can tell you that in all the meetings I’ve been in with those parties, the (International Ice Hockey Federation ), the (International Olympic Committee)– everyone wants it. Now we’re just trying to cross all the t’s and dot the i’s.”

Nicholson, along with members of his staff, and outside parties met Thursday morning in downtown Toronto, ensuring they had a blueprint to be fully mobilized should the deal be finalized to have NHL players competing at next February’s Olympic Games.

“It’s complicated. When you’re dealing with the IOC, they’re not just looking at winter sport. They’re looking at summer and winter sport, how those dollars are divided up,” said Nicholson.

“The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association want to make sure that their players are playing in an environment that is safe. We’ve got to make sure we can get the players over there because of jet lag and making sure everything works.”

Travel was a key agenda item Thursday, and it is believed there will be four North American hubs, in different time zones, for players to fly to Russia from.

“It’s not like we’re playing in Vancouver. Sochi’s a long ways away,”said Nicholson.

Around the table Thursday, many issues were raised in the pre-press conference meeting. Insurance for the players remains a key topic, as is safety while in that region.

A source told Sportsnet’s Roger Millions that Canada’s summer Olympic training camp, should the agreement be finalized, is slated for Aug. 26-29 in Calgary, at the WinSport Winter Sport Institute — also the headquarters of Hockey Canada.
There had been many concerns regarding the medical facilities and adequacies of hospital amenities in Sochi.

Ottawa-based physician, Dr. Mark Aubry, the chief medical officer of the IIHF and one of the pioneers in concussion awareness and research, has handled that dossier, in conjunction with the league and the Players’ Association. Both parties sent groups to Sochi under Aubry’s guise, and it appears as if there is a level of comfort from both sides.

“I feel very comfortable saying that those things are looked after as well as can be expected,” said Nicholson. “We just have to make sure Gary and Don are comfortable with that, as well as (some) other items.”