IIHF changes tune

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The IIHF won't put a hard and fast deadline on the NHL to solve its labour woes and include NHLers in the 2006 Olympics. Speaking at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Grand Forks, N.D., Rene Fasel, head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said there is no looming date to ensure NHL participation in the Turin, Italy, games.

"Our position is quite clear, we want to keep the door open as long as possible," Fasel said. "The Olympics are the biggest event in the sporting world and we would love to have the NHL players there.

"It's too early to say yes or no. Personally, I will try to keep that door open as long as possible."

The NHL locked out its players Sept. 15 after failing to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. About 550 games have been cancelled due to the 111-day lockout.

Fasel said in September, 2004 an agreement between the league and its players would need to be reached by this month to ensure NHL participation in the tournament. However, he said yesterday the only deadline from the IIHF that would prevent NHL players from participating would be the actual tournament itself.

"To be honest, we could leave it open until two hours before the first game," Fasell said.

It was welcome news to Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.

"We want best on best," Nicholson said. "We want NHL players in Italy."

Fasel will have a chance today to speak with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who will be in Grand Forks to take in the medal games.


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