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Bettman thrilled with start to Olympics

Monday, 02.22.2010 / 10:42 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Bettman thrilled with start to Olympics
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told MSNBC that the Olympic hockey tournament has been a big success.
It's quite possible the NHL picked up a few more fans following the dramatic outcome of Sunday's USA-Canada contest in the preliminary round of the men's ice hockey tournament at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.

That's something NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is certainly hoping for. The Commissioner was a guest of Willie Geist on MSNBC immediately following Team USA's thrilling 5-3 victory over Team Canada during the second game of Super Sunday at the 2010 Olympics.

Here's a portion of that question and answer session.

Geist: How impressed were you with the game between the United States and Canada?

Bettman: We've had a terrific tournament so far and as we move to the medal round, I'm sure it's going to continue to be exciting. But this is basically the NHL game. We're in an NHL building (GM Place in Vancouver), we're playing with NHL rules on NHL ice. We're using NHL officials with the four-man system and we're using NHL players. This reminded me very much of a playoff game but, the most important thing, in terms of this tournament, is that our players have a long history and tradition of representing their countries in international play. They love doing it and they're thrilled to be here and the Vancouver Olympics have been a great experience for all of us.

Geist: Don't you think having fans see a game like this is certainly a boon for your sport?

Bettman: We think it's important to do the right things internationally and that's why this is our fourth Olympics. That's why we're the only sports league that actually shuts down a couple of weeks to go to the Olympics. However, it's not without an impact on the NHL season. When you're in a place like Vancouver or Salt Lake City (in 2002), in North American time zones, the impact and benefit is a lot different than when you're halfway around the world. So in anticipation of your next question, we haven't made a decision about going to Sochi, Russia, in 2014. We'll take a deep breath after this experience and figure out whether or not it makes sense for us to go to the next Olympics. But we're glad we're here now.

Geist: Could you lay out the League's concerns with going to future Olympics?

Bettman: The Super Bowl is over and it's our time in the season in terms of the attention. At this point in the calendar, there's no baseball yet. We're heading into the stretch run for our regular season and playoffs and we've had incredible competitive balance. It's not just that we disappear for two weeks, but we have some NHL teams who send eight or nine players to the Olympics and others that send one or two. The teams coming back from this two-week break are in a whole lot different condition than when they left. Teams that have had major Olympic participation are going to come back a little more nicked up, maybe with injuries. The other thing is where the Games are played -- it makes a big difference. How much attention the Olympics get and our game gets is very important. In Sochi, Russia, the time zones are eight hours ahead of the East Coast and North American, which means the bulk of our games for which we're giving up our prime time exposure will be played from 4 a.m. and 2 p.m. which is not necessarily ideal. That's why when the Games have been played in North America, we've seen a lot greater impact on the Games than when they're halfway around the world. Having said that, I'm pointing out the discussion points for anyone to suggest there is no impact in taking the two-week break -- that's a bit naïve.

Olympic Gear Geist: How do you create the excitement for ice hockey you see all over Vancouver in the United States where football, baseball and basketball dominant the sports landscape?

Bettman: That's something we've been doing over the years. We are Canada's game and that's one of the things making these Olympics so special. I think when the final analysis is made on what took place in Vancouver, hockey will be the dominant story. With respect to what we do in the United States, we're coming off of four years of record attendance and record revenues. We have the best fans in all the world and we're a pretty well-kept secret in some parts of the United States. But that secret is getting revealed to more and more people over time. If you've never been an NHL fan, tune in to us and you'll like what you see.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale