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IIHF chief calls for ‘game-changing’ NHL offer, players vent their anger

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) general secretary Horst Lichtner has conceded that a “game-changing” offer is now likely needed in order for the NHL to reverse its decision not to compete at the 2018 winter Olympic Games, as the North American league’s players hit out at the stance.

The NHL on Monday confirmed it would not participate in the 2018 Games, stating no “meaningful dialogue” has materialised to convince it of the benefits of disrupting its season so its stars can compete in Pyeongchang. The NHL’s decision seemingly ends a run of five consecutive winter Games with the league’s players and follows months of back and forth between the organisation, the IIHF and International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Lichtner told the Associated Press news agency that the IIHF is continuing to try to find a solution, but conceded the world governing body must make a better offer. He added: “Then we can re-open the discussion, maybe not for ever but to come back with some so-called game changers to the (NHL team) owners which would then probably help to find a better decision than we have now.”

The IIHF had agreed to pay the travel and insurance costs of NHL players for the 2018 Games in a bid to ensure their participation at next year’s event in Pyeongchang. The IOC has covered these costs for the past five editions of the Games, but has refused to do so for Korea’s Olympics, leading to the standoff between the NHL, IIHF and IOC.

Lichtner said the IIHF was focused on a five-year plan for the sport in Asia, leading up to the 2022 Beijing winter Games in the key Chinese market. “We have a strategy and that would of course be easier and much nicer if this is with the NHL than without,” the German official said of a plan that includes the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

The KHL is now led by Dmitry Chernyshenko, who served as president and chief executive of the organising committee for the Sochi 2014 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Chernyshenko said in a statement: “We remember a similar situation ahead of Sochi 2014 when we reached a compromise.

“The KHL sticks to a principle that the Olympic ice hockey tournament is the main competition for national teams that attracts huge attention of viewers from all around the world. All of the best players should be present there, so the NHL decision evokes certain surprise and regret. It will make athletes deprived of an opportunity to take part in one of the most prestigious ice hockey events.

“From our side, we have never had any hesitation about participation of the KHL players at the winter Olympics. The next season’s schedule will provide a due break for the league’s players’ training and performance at the 2018 Olympic Games. I am sure that the tournament will run at a high competitive level and the KHL representatives will take leading roles in various national teams.”

The NHL’s players have been vocal in their opposition to the league’s decision. Russian star Alex Ovechkin (pictured), who plays for the Washington Capitals, said: “It's my country. It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. Somebody going to tell me I don't go. I don't care, I just go.”

Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes, who played for the United States at Sochi 2014, called the NHL decision “brutal” and said he didn't read the full explanation because “I don't believe half of their reasoning.”

He added: “I don't think there's any reason that we shouldn't be going. That's pretty much the thoughts on it from every player in the league.”