Alex Ovechkin. Image by: Getty Images
Alex Ovechkin has been clear about his desire to play in the Olympics. However, as it appears the IIHF would bar him from playing since the NHL isn't participating, the Capitals superstar has acknowledged he won't be suiting up in Pyeongchang.
Alex Ovechkin’s stance about Olympic participation has never been in question.
Almost from the moment questions arose about the NHL’s willingness to participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Ovechkin made it clear that, with or without the league’s OK, he would be going. He said it ahead of the World Cup of Hockey in September 2016. He doubled down on those sentiments throughout last season. He continued to assert he would go to the Olympics even after the league officially announced in April that it wouldn’t be sending players to South Korea, and he had even received the backing of Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
However, Ovechkin’s Olympic dream, along with that of dozens of other NHLers, took a final blow earlier this week when IIHF president Rene Fasel admitted to Reuters that the “train has left the station” on NHL participation. Fasel said that even if NHL players such as Ovechkin — and Fasel did speak about the Capitals captain directly in a conversation with Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko — wanted to play in the tournament in Pyeongchang, it would be hard to allow them to do so due to an agreement to honor contracts between the NHL and IIHF.
And with that, Ovechkin had to relent on his dream of suiting up for the Russian national team in a few months’ time.
In a lengthy, heartfelt message released by the Capitals on Thursday evening, Ovechkin expressed his desire to play in the Olympics and his dream of winning a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Games for Russia. He touched on his mother’s history at the Olympics — Tatyana Ovechkina won Olympic gold in 1976 and 1980 in women’s basketball — and his history playing for Team Russia at every level. Ovechkin said he was disappointed in the league, IOC and IIHF. He added that the athletes, the fans and the game lose as a result of the decision not to send NHL players to Pyeongchang. And Ovechkin also explained what the opportunity at the upcoming tournament meant to him and others and the predicament the league has put the players in.
“Ever since I was a kid and all the time I have played in the NHL, NHL players have played in the Olympic Games,” Ovechkin wrote. “We never have to make choice between our team and our country my whole career. I love the Capitals and my teammates here as much as I love my country and I know all the other NHL players feel the same for their teams. We should not have to be in position to make this choice.”
Unfortunately, though, cost issues, among other things, have foisted the decision on NHLers, especially those who would have been surefire Olympians.
Throughout negotiations about NHL participation, the league and the international bodies went back and forth about the money associated with insuring the players and sending them overseas. When the IIHF proposed allocating funds used for other programs to cover the costs, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, on behalf of the league, it didn’t make sense to strip money away from grassroots programs just to make the Olympics a possibility in February. The league has also said there’s no clear benefit to shutting down the league for three weeks in the midst of the season.
While those debates waged on, Ovechkin said it was only posturing between the NHL, IOC and IIHF. He said that this whole song and dance between the league, IOC and IIHF had happened before, ahead of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and that he felt that something would get done that would allow players to participate. Ovechkin wasn’t alone in that belief, either, as players, fans and pundits felt there could be some way to fashion a breakthrough that saw the 2018 Games played as a best-on-best tournament.
But Fasel’s comments, as well as the NHL’s line, were the final nail in the NHL Olympic participation coffin, leaving Ovechkin and the players with nothing else but hope for a resolution in time for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
“I said every time I was asked since last Olympics that nobody is going to tell me I can't play because my country was going to be allowed to ask me. Now the IIHF and NHL say my country is not allowed to ask anybody in the NHL to play,” Ovechkin wrote, “and there is nothing to talk about anymore.”
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