USA Hockey will have a “Plan B” for the Beijing Winter Olympics if the NHL decides not to participate over COVID-19 concerns and protocols, said assistant executive director John Vanbiesbrouck on Tuesday.
The NHL agreed to a break in its schedule to allow players to compete in Beijing with the caveat that it could withdraw on its own if an abundance of COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympic window.
That concern has escalated with the Calgary Flames on Monday becoming the third team in the last month to have games postponed due to COVID-19.
The postponed Calgary games bring to eight the number of games that need to be rescheduled following outbreaks amongst the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders.
If the NHL does pull out of Beijing, USA Hockey would have to cobble a team together from other leagues as it did for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. NHL players did not compete in South Korea after the league failed to negotiate an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
“Plan B is we have to look at what our pool options are,” said Vanbiesbrouck, during a call to announce Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin as the general manager of the men’s team and New York Rangers GM Chris Drury as his assistant.
“Last time through there were some American Hockey League (AHL) players available, players playing in Europe and the NCAA. That would likely be our player pool but we are focused on Plan A and hopefully, we get there.”
USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said he had received an updated playbook from Beijing organizers on Monday but was still waiting for clarification on areas of concern, particularly around how long players must quarantine in China if they produce a positive COVID-19 test.
Even if the NHL decides to push ahead on Olympic participation, fears of an extended quarantine could potentially shrink the player pool conceded Guerin, although there has been no indication of that yet.
“There’s always the possibility but part of our responsibility is that they feel comfortable going, to get all the information we can and pass it along to them,” said Guerin. “The last thing we want to do is put anybody in harm’s way.”
The NHL has until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics without financial penalty.
USA Hockey will announce the men’s team after that deadline, most likely between Jan. 12-14. The U.S. women’s team will be confirmed on Jan. 1 ahead of the Games, which begin on Feb. 4.
“We’re just trying to communicate with everybody the best we can knowing that there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Kelleher. “Obviously the longer we wait on some of these things we hope the answers can be better for the case to go and provide the best, safest solution so that everybody can feel good about getting to Beijing to play hockey.”