From left to right: René Fasel (IIHF President), Jae Youl Kim (POCOG Executive Vice President), Horst Lichtner (IIHF General Secretary). Photo: Martin Merk
IIHF, POCOG meet the press
One day before the men’s gold medal game and closing ceremony the IIHF and the Korean organizers from POCOG met the press to wrap up the ice hockey tournaments.
After an earlier press conference for the women’s ice hockey tournament, IIHF President René Fasel, IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner and Jae Youl Kim, the Executive Vice President of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), met the press in the mountain cluster at the Main Press Centre.
Fasel thanked the organizer for setting up excellent tournament conditions in Korea.
“We are very happy in ice hockey. Not being in a hockey country and having plenty of hockey teams here we were facing some challenges and managed them together,” said Fasel. “I also want to thank all the volunteers. They are exceptional, always friendly and smiling. We are very pleased to be here and are looking forward to great medal games.
“Having ice hockey here, we had great results despite not having the NHL here, which is a disappointment. We’re going to Beijing in 2022. It will be another opportunity to promote hockey in Asia and we will discuss again whether the NHL will participate or not.”
“We had perfect ice rink conditions. All teams said thank you to the organizer and they are quite honest with us. We had a long transfer-of-knowledge concept that paid off. We have perfect team facilities. Our teams felt very well serviced,” added Lichtner. “We have great TV production and for the gold medal game we will have 46 cameras for the production. We are thankful that we get this high-quality production and promotion for ice hockey.”
From the organizer side the ice hockey tournaments were a success and will leave a legacy in the country.
“I’d like to thank the IIHF for their incredible support and the knowledge and knowhow they gave to the ice hockey community in Korea, and to invite the host country to play in the Olympic Games. With this motivation our ice hockey players worked very hard and made great progress in the last seven years. Thank you for the support,” said Kim.
To questions whether the decision about NHL participation will be known soon, Fasel answered that this depends on the NHL and NHLPA and their discussions about the Collective Bargaining Agreement: “They have to give notice for the CBA by September 2019. As long as they are not in negotiations, nobody will take the risk to say anything about participating or not. Participating in the Olympics for them is not the first item on the agenda. I hope in the period after we will have some discussions so we can make a decision on Beijing 2022.”
Despite not having the NHL players here, Fasel doesn’t see the men’s ice hockey tournament being diminished.
“Our game is living from the emotions. If you saw the Canada-Germany game and saw the special atmosphere and emotions, and all Germany sitting in front of the TV… You don’t need caviar every day. You can also live with leberkase and weisswurst, and that was such a day,” Fasel said. “The fans were there. The fans were also there when the Olympic Athletes from Russia played the Czechs. I’m honest, I miss the NHL here but we have to do the best to promote hockey and the Canada-Germany game was one of these games with the unique emotions we only have in our game. Also the women’s gold medal game that went over 80 minutes.”
Fasel is looking forward to having an unusual pair of teams going for gold with the Olympic Athletes from Russia, for many the tournament favourite from the beginning, and Germany, the unexpected finalist.
“We have Germany making the final. It’s a ‘kleines Wunder’. Everybody can beat everybody. Whether it will be a miracle on ice we don’t know,” he said. “I’m happy to see an unusual final. We will have million of peoples watching in Germany and in Russia. There’s no better promotion for ice hockey in a football country than this.”
The exciting women’s final also brought up the traditional question whether tied playoff games should be decided in a shootout after a scoreless overtime period, or whether the game should be continue until a goal is scored, which in some cases has taken extra hours.
“Canada had 80 minutes to score one more goal than the U.S. The mentalities in Europe and in North America are obviously different. In the FIFA World Cup a gold medal game tied after overtime is also decided in a shootout and it works,” said Fasel and also points out a major difference between the schedule of an international tournament and of a Stanley Cup series. “I will never convince North America to accept the shootout. But in a tournament like this you cannot play unlimited overtime when you have the next games coming up and when a team plays the next day.”
Although the Korean men’s and women’s national teams lost their games, the players won many hearts for their dedication and the men’s team even fought back and was close to tying the qualification playoff game against Finland.
“The Korean teams performed well. The women’s team was very special. At the opening ceremony when you see the North and South Korean players giving the torch to Olympic champion Kim, that was very special. The message of these to hockey players was very special and emotional to us,” Fasel said.
The IIHF answered questions about injuries and concussions where new technology was in place. “We had several incidents but only two concussions. We followed the protocol thoroughly and had for the first time concussion cameras,” Lichtner said.
Also new in place was the coach’s challenge. “I want to congratulate the officiating teams for their work. We introduced the coach’s challenge just shortly before the Olympics on request of the participating teams for goalie interference and offside,” said Fasel.
Fasel updated on the attendance. 85,000 spectators came to the women’s tournament and so far 128,000 for the men without the medal games. “So we can expect around 150,000,” Fasel said. It was attendance figures never seen in Korean ice hockey before.
On the question why the numbers went down a bit for the quarter-finals, Fasel said: “It’s a non-hockey country and the pricing was relatively high for the quarter-finals and with the pairings not known before. I’m happy with the attendance and especially that so many came to watch women’s hockey too,” said Fasel.
“Overall in the ice hockey program we sold over 80 per cent of the tickets and expect much more spectators for the final games,” added Kim and explained: “During the quarter-finals we had many other events including Koreans competing in curling and speed skating.”
Next are today’s bronze medal game followed by the OAR-Germany final tomorrow. Asked about the IOC’s discussions whether to re-allow the Russian flag or not tomorrow and whether the Olympic Athletes from Russia will respect the rules, Fasel replied: “For me what is going on on the ice is much more important. We have a final and focus on this and everybody has to respect the rules,” he said and mentioned that the last few weeks with the uncertainness about the two Russian ice hockey teams and the last-minute decision on integrating North Korean players for a unified Korean women’s ice hockey team created some extra challenge.”
“It was a difficult time for us since 5th December. We didn’t know whether no, one or two Russian teams would participate, then you have the selection process, the approval and invitation of the athletes from Russia, you need a new uniform, do the accreditation and everything. It was an intensive time but we never complained about that. We are here to play our sport and promote it and we respect and follow the rules. We have had many doping tests, more than in any other sport.”
Once the gold medal game and the closing ceremony are over, a new Olympic cycle will begin with Beijing 2022 on the horizon.
“Beijing will be different than Korea. We intend to qualify the Chinese men’s and women’s teams like we did with Korea. That will need a congress decision. They have now the Kunlun Red Star team playing in the KHL with the men’s team and in the CWHL with the women’s team,” Fasel said and mentioned the additional teams playing in minor and junior leagues in the Russian system with male players and in North America with female players.
“They are really working hard on having competitive teams. And I’m sure they will have concepts to fill the arenas like it was done in Sochi.
“The biggest challenge is to be sustainable. They are preparing to have competitive teams within four years but we would like a sustainable program so they can have a strong domestic league or have several teams playing in the KHL to stay competitive,” Fasel said. “That’s something we want to work on.”