While the NHL has been firm on its position to not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is still hopeful he can represent his native Russia in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“We’ll hope I’ll be allowed to participate,” he said in Russian to Sport-Express. “There’s always a chance.”
Ovechkin added that there hasn’t been any change in his status, and he also hasn’t contacted players from other NHL teams about their intentions for the Olympics. When the league’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, was asked about Olympic participation during the Stanley Cup finals in late May, he said, “We have an expectation that none of our players are going.” Asked specifically about repercussions for players like Ovechkin, who previously has said he intends to represent Russia regardless of the league’s decision, Bettman said he wouldn’t “pick that fight right now.”
Now that the NHL has announced its 2017-18 schedule, which includes an All-Star Game in Dallas, the league’s decision appears final with no Olympic break scheduled. When the NHL first announced in April that it wouldn’t interrupt its season for some players to participate in the PyeongChang Games, Ovechkin said he still intended to be there.
“I didn’t change my mind, and I won’t,” Ovechkin said then. “It’s my country. You know, I think everybody wants to play there, and it’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So I don’t know. Somebody going to tell me don’t go, I don’t care. I just go.”
Ovechkin captained Team Russia in the World Cup of Hockey, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has previously said he would support Ovechkin’s desire to represent his country. If Ovechkin were gone for the full duration of the Olympics from Feb. 9 to 25, he would miss at least nine Capitals games. In a watered-down field without NHLers, Russia is expected to be the favorite to win gold, even if Ovechkin is barred from participating.
“The Olympics are incredibly meaningful to Alex and his family,” Leonsis told Sports Illustrated in October. “So my commitment to them was, I will always do what’s in Alex’s best interest, and I said it 10 years ago, I’ll say it today: If Alex Ovechkin says this is really important to me to go represent and play for my country, I’m going to support him. What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll get fined or something. I hope it doesn’t get to that. But I’ve got to have my captain’s back, and I will.”