SOCHI, Russia -- Amid concerns about competitive imbalance between Canada and the United States and the rest of the countries involved, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel on Tuesday guaranteed women's hockey would not be taken out of the Olympics.

After NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he would be "distressed" to see that happen, Fasel spoke up to reassure him.

"That will never happen," Fasel said. "I can guarantee that will never happen."

Bettman responded with: "Perfect, that's what I was hoping you would say."

At other points of the news conference, Bettman refused to talk about NHL players participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Yet he and Fasel found common ground in agreeing that women's hockey should not go the way of softball and baseball in the Summer Games.

The NHL hired former WNBA president Val Ackerman as a consultant to look into a women's professional league, and though Bettman said that didn't seem to make financial sense it's something the league will continue to examine.

"I believe in the importance of the women's game," Bettman said. "It's something that needs work and is worthy of further attention."

Fasel knows that, with the exception of Canada and the U.S., women's hockey "is not as it should be" in Europe. But it has improved.

"I think it's much better than it was in Vancouver," Fasel said. "We started in Vancouver with 17-0 Canada-Slovak game. We have 80,000 girls playing in Canada, and we have maybe 4,000 or 4,500 playing in Finland, maybe 2,000 in Sweden and in Switzerland and Russia if we have 2,000 girls playing that would be a lot.

"It's much better, but we are not there and we can see the result."

This is just the fifth Winter Olympics with women's hockey, and Canada has won three gold medals and the U.S. one. Those two rivals meet again in the final Thursday night.

Parity has been difficult to come by, something Fasel pointed out happened on the men's side decades ago.

"If I compare it to the man's game, in the '30s Switzerland lost in the Olympics by two digits, so we needed actually between 60-to-70 years to beat Canada for the first time in the Torino games," he said. "We need a little bit more time with the women. ... We need patience."

Fasel expressed no doubt that the International Olympic Committee would give the IIHF that time. He would like to have 10 teams instead of just eight by the 2022 Games, but for now the focus is on what can be done for 2018.

"We need to work very, very hard to close this gap with the help of USA Hockey and Canadian hockey," Fasel said. "I would say in the beginning we had Canada and U.S., Finland and Sweden. Now we have Russian coming in, Switzerland coming in, Japan is growing. We need time. Just give me a little bit more time."

Over time -- at least from 2010 to 2014 -- the competitive balance improved a bit. In Vancouver, Canada and the U.S. outscored their opposition by a combined 88-4 and nine games were decided by a goal differential of five or more.

In Sochi, Canada and the U.S. have outscored their opposition 34-8. Three games in the tournament so far have been decided by a goal differential of five or more.

The improvement is partly due to a change in the tournament format. The top two countries in the world in women's hockey did not face the seventh and eighth seeds in Sochi.

"There's a ton of good things going on in the women's game and a ton of progress. I've personally been witness to that," Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser said the day before the opening ceremonies.

"Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it's harder for the other countries to catch up. That's the dilemma that women's hockey is always going to face. But the reality is we're so much further ahead in this time span than if you look at the history of where men's hockey was at this time. The game has really come a long ways in the four or five Olympics we've seen."