IIHF apologizes for remarks

Updated: May 20, 2010, 5:11 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

U.S. general manager Brian Burke believes the International Ice Hockey Federation should abandon holding a world championship in Olympic years.

"It's nothing short of based on greed in my opinion. The IIHF doesn't want to acknowledge that," Burke told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.

Burke said the IIHF makes about $20 million from the tournament, and therefore have a vested interest in getting top players to take part. But national teams traditionally have struggled to attract top players in Olympic years.

The issue of player participation at the world championship, held this year in Germany, became a talking point this week when the head of communications for the IIHF wrote a piece that criticized players such as Sidney Crosby, who declined to join Canada at the tournament once his Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Szymon Szemberg, the communications director, wrote that being tired wasn't a valid excuse, and suggested players owe it to their national federations to attend the tournament.

Burke, who also is the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was livid at the criticism.

"This guy is a paid flunky," Burke said.

On Thursday, the head of the IIHF, Rene Fasel, spoke with Crosby's agent, the head of Hockey Canada and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and apologized for the tone of the article, as well including Crosby by name within it.

"I sincerely believe that Rene Fasel was sorry for the inappropriate comments made towards Sidney and the other players," Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, told The Canadian Press.

Burke, who built the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the Vancouver Games, said that for Szemberg to criticize Crosby -- who scored the overtime winner in the gold-medal game against the U.S. and won a Stanley Cup last year with the Penguins -- is off-base.

"The guy's obviously ignorant as well," Burke said of Szemberg.

Reached by e-mail at the world championship, Szemberg declined to respond to Burke's comments, although he did say he hoped the Montreal Canadiens -- the Maple Leafs' bitter rival -- win Game 3 of their Eastern Conference final Thursday night in Montreal against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Corey Perry is the only Canadian Olympian at the world championship, and Jack Johnson was the only member of the U.S. Olympic team to suit up in Germany.

"You've got to look at the guys that didn't come -- a lot of guys were in the playoffs and a lot of guys played in the Olympics," Perry said. "That's a lot hockey when you play 82 games and then the Olympics and then you start playing playoffs. The emotion level is so high that it's tough to get going again with a little layoff. It's not the easiest thing to do."

Said Burke: "Most of them are banged up."

The men's national team director for Canada, Scott Salmond, defended Crosby, noting that the NHL star has played in two previous world championships, as well as the NHL playoffs and the Olympics.

"I don't think it's fair to single him out," Salmond said. "We respect where he is and we respect what he's done for us and I think what he'll do for us in the future."

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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