Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby again should be among a legion of NHL players with the chance to become the next Olympic hero.
The NHL announced Friday that the League will pause the 2013-14 regular-season schedule from Feb. 9-25 so the League's players can participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia. The decision to once again send NHL players to the Olympics was a joint agreement between the League and the National Hockey League Players' Association.
The dozen nations competing for gold in Sochi are Russia, Slovakia, the United States, Slovenia, Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia. NHL players should have a presence on each of the 12 teams.
Slovenia is participating in its first Olympic men's hockey tournament after failing to qualify for the past six. Austria is back in the tournament for the first time since 2002, while Belarus and Germany, which took part in the 2010 tournament, did not qualify for the 2014 event.
For Crosby (of the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Canada, it will be an opportunity to become the first country since the Soviet Union in 1988 to repeat as Olympic champion. The Unified Team, which comprised Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia, also won gold in 1992.
Crosby's golden goal came Feb. 28, 2010, when he sent a low shot from the bottom of the left circle through the legs of USA goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres for the overtime winner in the gold-medal game in Vancouver. The goal gave Canada its second gold medal since the NHL started sending players to the Olympics in 1998.
In that game, American left wing Zach Parise, who now plays for the Minnesota Wild, scored his memorable game-tying goal with 24.4 seconds left in regulation, but Crosby topped the dramatics and capped Canada's Olympics with his goal.
The United States has been on the wrong end of each of Canada's gold-medal wins during the NHL era, also losing the championship game in 2002 in Salt Lake City. The Americans haven't won Olympic gold since 1980, the iconic "Miracle on Ice" win in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Russia is hoping to recapture its gold-medal glory in Sochi, the first Russian city to host the Winter Olympics. Russia won the silver medal in 1998 and the bronze in 2002.
Finland leads all nations with three medals since NHL players started attending the Games in 1998, winning bronze that year and in 2010, as well as silver in 2006.
Dominik Hasek led the Czech Republic to the first Olympic gold that featured NHL players, in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. Hasek was perfect in a 1-0 win against Russia in the gold-medal game.
Four years later, in Salt Lake City, the Canadians celebrated their first Olympic gold medal in men's ice hockey in 50 years. With a Canadian loonie frozen into center ice, Canada beat the United States 5-2. Joe Sakic, now a front-office executive for the Colorado Avalanche, and Jarome Iginla, who recently signed with the Boston Bruins, scored two goals apiece in the victory.
Sweden won gold in 2006, beating Finland 3-2 in Turin, Italy, behind 25 saves from New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer