NHL players will return to the Winter Games. NHL

Players from the National Hockey League (NHL) will be able to compete at the 2026 Winter Games in Milan-Cortina after an agreement was reached between the players, the league and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The agreement also covers the 2030 Games.

The NHL will make a comeback to the Winter Olympics in 2026 and 2030, according to a press release from the NHL. The agreement was backed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and will allow NHL players to compete in the Olympics for the first time in twelve years. 

"We are pleased to formally announce that, after extensive collaboration with the NHL Players' Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation, NHL players will participate in the Olympic Ice Hockey tournaments in 2026 and 2030."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not yet selected the host city for the 2030 Winter Games. The host city will be selected at the IOC Session in Paris in July this year, the week before the start of the Summer Olympics in the French capital. 

"The international composition of the National Hockey League rosters is unparalleled, and NHL players are proud to represent their countries," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in the momentous statement announcing the return of the world's best hockey to the Winter Games since their last appearance at Sochi 2014.

The Commissioner also stated: "Our goal is to participate in an international tournament every two years, with the World Cup of Hockey taking place between the Olympic Games," Bettman reiterated. 

The National Hockey League, better known by its initials NHL, is a privately owned professional ice hockey league consisting of franchises from Canada and the United States, with players competing in the Winter Games between 1998 and 2014. The competition in Milan will be played on NHL-sized rinks rather than international specifications.

Marty Walsh, executive director of the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA), stated: "We know that hockey fans around the world have been eagerly awaiting the next international competition of the best against the best, and now they will finally get to see some of their favourite players represent their countries and play together." 

IIHF President Luc Tardif said the agreement, which comes ahead of Salt Lake City's potential bid to host the 2034 Winter Games, is a significant boost for the sport. "This decision represents a turning point for ice hockey worldwide and marks the great return of NHL players to the Olympic Games.