TORONTO – Before the 2014 Winter Olympics, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals infamously said that if the NHL chose not to participate in the Sochi Games, he’d leave the League to play for Russia anyway.
“I’ll go play in the Olympic Games for my country. If somebody says to me, ‘You can’t play,’ see ya,” he said.
The threat that the NHL won’t go to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is even greater. This month’s World Cup of Hockey, where Ovechkin is leading Team Russia, is an event created by the NHL to put pressure on the IOC; or, in theory, to supplant NHL participation in the Olympics altogether. And while the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are appealing due to China’s burgeoning sports fan market, the NHL has shown little interest in shutting down its season for Pyeongchang.
If the NHL doesn’t go to South Korea, will Ovechkin still go to play for Russia?
“My decision is the same. I don’t know what’s going to happen right now,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve said I’m going to play.”
Is your intention to go to South Korea [for the Olympics] no matter what the NHL’s decision is, or is it a matter of seeing how it plays out?
“I will go there.”
Whether the NHL is there or not?
“Yeah. Maybe I won’t be in the NHL. Maybe I’ll be retired then. We’ll see,” he said, smiling widely.
This is something Ovechkin has said consistently about the NHL and Olympic participation, telling the Russian TASS agency a year ago that “I and other players will definitely come” to the 2018 Olympics.
Ovechkin said the World Cup of Hockey is “good for the game, but not good for” NHL players.
“There are 82 games plus playoffs, and then the World Cup. We’re not going to have any time to relax. Or recover our bodies, if we’re injured. But it’s great for fans. Great for hockey,” he said.
He also said that the tournament’s format can’t be compared to that of the Olympics, with Team Europe – a collection of “orphaned” NHL players from European nations – and the under-23 Team North America included rather than two specific nations, like Slovakia and Switzerland, for example.
“That’s why you can’t compare it to the Olympic Games. You can’t compare those two tournaments. Basically it’s three North American teams, one Team Europe and then Russian, Czech, Sweden and Finland,” he said.
“Yes, the best players are here. But it’s not the Olympics.”
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