Last chance for NHL's finest?

Wed Feb 3, 2010 1:32am EST
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By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Vancouver could be the last Olympics to see hockey's greatest players face off for gold.

While the players' commitment to the Games remains strong, National Hockey League (NHL) owners have become far less enthusiastic about the Olympic experience and no agreement is yet in place to take part in future Games.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested last week that the league's players should enjoy the Olympic spotlight now, because they might not get the chance when the Games move to Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

"It's difficult for any business, any league, to shut down for two weeks with the attendant loss of attention and everything that flows from that," Bettman told reporters.

With the uncertainty about the future, the 2010 tournament in the game's spiritual home is assuming ever-greater status. Hockey-mad Canadians have been anticipating the event since Vancouver was first awarded the Games in 2003.

The special atmosphere is sure to add to an already compelling gold-medal chase that many pundits believe could rank alongside the U.S. team's 1980 Lake Placid "Miracle on Ice" and the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia as defining moments in the sport's international history.

No athletes will be under greater pressure to deliver gold in Vancouver than the 23 men wearing the Maple Leaf on their hockey sweaters.

Canada's ambitious goal is to top the overall medals table but it will be a hollow achievement to much of the Great White North unless the men's hockey gold is among the final tally.   Continued...

<p>Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils tries to make a save during the White team's practice at Team Canada's Olympic hockey training camp in Calgary, August 25, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>