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NHL Stars Will Compete in 1998 Winter Olympics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NHL, NHL Players Assn. and the International Ice Hockey Federation have scheduled a news conference Monday in New York to announce their agreement on a plan that allows NHL stars to represent their countries in the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Japan.

On Friday, the NHL’s Board of Governors approved players’ participation in the Games under a Dream Team format, which has been strongly backed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The league also got two more years of labor peace when Bettman and Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHLPA, agreed to waive the reopener clause in their collective bargaining agreement. The original deal, reached last January after a 103-day lockout, permitted either side to reopen the contract after the 1997-98 season.

A source familiar with the talks said Bettman and Goodenow dropped the clause because they believed it foolish to build the visibility of NHL players during the Olympics and risk a momentum-killing lockout a few months later.

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The Olympic agreement calls for the NHL to take a 16-day break in its schedule during the 1997-98 season. Teams from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic will compete against two other nations that have advanced through a qualifying tournament. The eight finalists will compete in a seven-game, round-robin tournament over eight days. Players will get four travel days before and after the Games.

Don Maloney, general manager of the New York Islanders, said the 16-day interruption would not be disruptive to the NHL.

“I think it will be exciting,” he said. “For the players who don’t go, it will be a welcome respite. For the players who do go, it will be a heck of an experience.”

Darry Seibel, a spokesman for USA Hockey--the administrative body that oversees Olympic and national hockey teams--said his group approves of the Dream Team plan.

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“The opportunity to send the very best American-born players to the Olympics is something we find quite attractive,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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