The National Hockey League (NHL), its players’ union, International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have reached an agreement Friday that will ensure the American league’s return to the Games in Beijing this winter. NHL players had skipped the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

“It was not easy, but we did it. I’m really, really happy. When you see the last was 2014, and they would wait until 2026, so you have 12 years in between — that means we have a generation of hockey players that would not be able to play in the Olympics,” IIHF president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone.

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The players will still have the opportunity to withdraw if pandemic circumstances warrant.

“We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for the countries,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best on the Olympic stage.”

COVID-19 insurance is not part of the agreement, though Fasel confirmed the IIHF will provide a $5 million fund for any lost salary because of the disease. Vaccinations are expected to be required, and players will have their contracts insured for injury.

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US coach Mike Sullivan called returning to the Olympics “such an exciting time for hockey.”

Reigning NHL MVP Connor McDavid played for an under-23 “Team North America” at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and has yet to play for Canada in a tournament of the world’s best men’s hockey players.

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“Just to be able to represent Canada at the Olympics and compete for a gold medal would be an absolute dream come true,” McDavid told the AP this week. “It’s kind of been a long time since we’ve been able to play best on best internationally. I think for me, and I think for a lot of guys that were on that team, it’s been a long time coming. We’re obviously looking forward to going to the Olympics if we’re all lucky enough to make it.”

The NHL had scheduled a three-week break to take into account the Olympic tournament opening on February 9. The league will still hold its All-Star weekend in Las Vegas before players fly to China on February 6.