IOC Athletes' Commission chair Angela Ruggiero claims it is "immensely important" for NHL players to participate at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes' Commission chair and four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero believes it is "immensely important" for National Hockey League (NHL) players to participate at Pyeongchang 2018.

Ruggiero, who crowned a 16-year career as part of the United States women's national team with Olympic gold at Nagano 1998, and who also won silver at Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010 and bronze at Turin 2006, was speaking as negotiations continue for players from the world's largest league to compete at the next edition of the Winter Games.

NHL stars have participated at every edition since their debut appearance in Nagano. 

But negotiations are proving particularly fractious this time because the IOC have opted to stop covering the cost of transportation and accommodation fees as they previously had.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman claimed last week how team owners are showing a "strong negative sentiment" and are showing signs of "fatigue" after appearing at the five previous editions. 

Players, however, are still desperate to participate.

"It is immensely important to ensure NHL participation," Ruggiero, who replaced Claudia Bokel as chair of the athletes' panel in August, told insidethegames.

The women's event would not be affected, but the 36-year-old thinks the global development of the game would be hit particularly hard by the absence of the men.

Angela Ruggiero pictured participating at the Turin 2006 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Angela Ruggiero pictured participating at the Turin 2006 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

"At the end of the day, the Olympics will happen either way, but from a hockey perspective it would be different," she said.

"But the statistics since Nagano have shown how the Olympics can have a significant impact in the host nation.

"Having growth opportunities in the sport is really important and it would be a really bad thing to miss out on that."

In 2006, Ruggiero was appointed director of the New York Islanders' "Project Hope" programme, an initiative aimed at providing young Chinese athletes with access to higher education.

She is still working with figures including her Athletes' Commission colleague, China's short-track speed skater Yang Yang, to help develop the sport further.

Both the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL realise the importance of the Chinese market, but the NHL is thought to be less concerned about participating in the South Korean Games in Pyeongchang.

But the International Ice Hockey Federation have made it clear how they cannot "pick and choose" and must either participate in both Games or withdraw completely.

Discussions are expected to continue over the Christmas period before a final decision is taken in January.

Read the full exclusive interview with Angela Ruggiero here.