NHL, Olympics might be together for final time

NEW YORK - Olympic hockey is coming home to Canada, and this time it will be different.

The tournament will not be staged on Olympic-sized ice, and it will not take a back seat to other glamour winter sports. On the flip side, it might be the last one to feature NHL players.

Either way, fans in Vancouver will be in a frenzy.

"It's a chance of the lifetime to play in the Olympics in your own back yard," said Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash, an Ontario native. "It's going to be exciting, and the whole country is going to be going crazy."

Once February arrives, the NHL will take a two-week break from its season to allow the world's most recognizable players to compete for the most cherished prize in the sport this side of the Stanley Cup.

So far, there is no agreement between the league and the players' association to send NHL players to the 2014 Sochi Games, so this could be their swan song.

"It's a chance to play in front of your home country and play on home soil," said Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, a three-time Olympian. "It's probably my last chance to play in the Olympics. It might be the last chance for NHL players."

There is no question players still want to go. Players such as Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins have wanted to be Olympians since they were kids.

Some American children were inspired by the 1980 U.S. team that shocked the Soviet Union and went on to win gold in Lake Placid. Others from a younger generation were hooked by the United States' victory against Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship.

"It's been a goal of mine since I was 5 years old and watched the 1980 Olympics," Thomas said. "I had it planned out in my head that 1996 would have been my junior year of college. Back when I was planning this out, only college players were playing in the Olympics.

"Then it switched, so that threw off all my plans. I kind of gave up on the dream of playing in the Olympics, to a certain extent, because I wasn't even in the NHL. How was I going to make it to the Olympics? So now to possibly have this opportunity, it would be very special."

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who hails from Nova Scotia, was midway through his rookie season four years ago and was not picked for the Canadian team. His rival, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, was also in his first year but got the chance to play for Russia.

"To see the Olympics on TV and to see the way our country comes together and the support they show is an amazing thing," Crosby said. "To be a part of that would be a great opportunity and should continue to be an opportunity that NHL players have. Hopefully they find a way to make it work because I'm sure a lot of players feel the same way."