NHL players to participate in Sochi Olympics

The NHL announced Friday that an agreement has been reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation to send its players to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

The league will take a break from its schedule on Feb. 9 and resume play on Feb. 26.

"The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere."

The NHL has been sending players to the Olympics since the Nagano Games in 1998.

"The players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world's best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February," NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in a statement. "Having the opportunity to wear their nation's sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to."

Canada has won two gold medals (2002 and 2010) with rosters made up of NHL talent. The Czech Republic prevailed in 1998 and Sweden captured gold in 2006.

As part of the agreement, seven NHL referees and six NHL linesmen will be integrated into the IIHF on-ice officials' crews for the men's tournament.