By Chrös McDougall | May 30, 2019, 9:05 p.m. (ET)
Members of the U.S. men's ice hockey team celebrate victory over of Great Britain at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on May 15, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia.

 

In case there was any question, the U.S. men’s ice hockey team is headed to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

This marks the first U.S. spot at the 2022 Winter Games earned by any sport.

Per criteria recently announced at the IIHF Annual Congress, the top eight teams in the 2019 world rankings automatically qualify, along with host country China. Three additional teams will qualify later.

The U.S., which is ranked sixth, is one of the automatic qualifiers, along with Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland.

The U.S. has competed in all but one of the 23 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournaments dating back to 1920, missing only the 1928 edition. Winners of the 1960 and 1980 gold medals, Team USA will go into 2022 looking to win at the first Winter Games to be held in China.

Next on the agenda is determining whether the U.S. team will include NHL players. After participating in every Winter Games from 1998 to 2014, the league declined to release its players for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.

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Using a mix of college players and professionals based in Europe and the North American minor leagues, Team USA finished third in its group and then beat Slovakia in a playoff round before falling to the Czech Republic in a shootout in the quarterfinals.

More recently, a U.S. team made up primarily of NHL players whose teams had been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs competed at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship earlier this month in Slovakia, reaching the quarterfinals.

At the world championship, IIHF President Rene Fasel expressed hope that NHL players would be back in 2022, and said discussions with the league are ongoing. The topic is expected to be included in discussions relating to the NHL’s next collective bargaining agreement, with Fasel telling Around the Rings that more clarity on the situation is expected in September, although there is no timetable on a final decision.

The 2022 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament will follow the same format as in 2018, with three groups of four teams playing round robins, and the top eight teams advancing to single-elimination quarterfinals.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.