(The Sports Xchange) – Washington Capitals star left wing Alex Ovechkin, Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby and Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were among the National Hockey League (NHL) players who expressed dissatisfaction with the league’s announcement Monday that it will not participate in the upcoming Winter Olympic in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
However, Ovechkin was the most outspoken of the players, saying he still plans to play for Team Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics, even if he is the only NHL player to do so.
“Yeah, I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” Ovechkin told reporters Tuesday at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“Because it’s my country. I think everybody wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know, somebody (is) going to tell me ‘don’t go,’ I don’t care, I just go.”
In order for Ovechkin to participate in Pyeongchang, he would have to leave the Capitals during the season. The 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled Feb. 9-25.
Ovechkin, 31, is tied for seventh on the NHL’s goal scoring list with 33 goals this season and also has 33 assists. Washington (52-18-8) leads the Metropolitan Division and owns the best record in the NHL.
Ovechkin’s teammate and fellow Russian centre Evgeny Kuznetsov also said he plans to play for Team Russia if called upon. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby stated his respect for his teammates’ beliefs but doesn’t think he would be willing to play for his native Team Canada if there is not a deal in place with the NHL.
Ovechkin said he believes there is still time for the NHL to work out a compromise.
“Right now, it’s still time to make a decision; you can say whatever, but next year’s schedule is not out yet,” Ovechkin said. “So if the schedule is not going to the Olympic Games, then you can see they don’t bluff. But again, still long time, still everything can change.”
The NHL had been a willing participant in the Olympics since the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.
Canadian Toews also was disappointed in the decision.
“I guess you have to respect your employers, your owner’s decision. But … it just seems unfortunate that when the players voice it’s something that they think is beneficial not only for them, but for the league and for our game as a whole – it automatically turns into a negotiation,” Toews told the Chicago Tribune.
“It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next (collective bargaining agreement) negotiation rolls around. It’s not about the long-term goals of our game and growing it and the bigger picture.
“There was no comparison really, as far as energy and excitement to not only be part of a hockey team but being part of a larger group of athletes representing your country. There’s a lot that goes into it that makes it special.
“I disagree with the short-sightedness of this whole thing, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that players can get that cooperation from the league. Tough bounce.”
Unlike Ovechkin, however, Toews said he would not defy the league.
American Kane also said he would not play in the Olympics if the NHL prohibited it, but he believes there may be time to change the league’s decision.
Crosby, meanwhile, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is “disappointed” in the NHL’s decision.
“When you hear about the negotiations and things like that, I really thought something was going to be able to get worked out,” the Canadian said. “Unfortunately that’s not the case.”
Like Kane, Crosby hopes the league’s stance might change, noting that Monday’s announcement “came out of nowhere.”
He did not say whether he would participate in the Olympics if the NHL’s stance does not change.
“It’s a difficult situation to be in, there’s no doubt,” Crosby told the Post-Gazette. “But I know some guys have been vocal about going regardless. I’m not sure if I’m thinking quite that far ahead yet. It’s something that just happened. It’s something you have to think about.”
Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist, who played for Sweden in this year’s World Cup, noted that it might create an odd situation.
“That would be kind of weird to see some guys leaving, and it’s only going to be a few players, too,” Hornqvist said. “My vote is if I get a chance to go, I would like to go.”
Germany qualified to participate in the upcoming Olympics, and some German players in the NHL are particularly disappointed in the league’s decision.
“Obviously it’s really frustrating,” Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“Especially for a country like Germany, it’s not an everyday thing where we get to go to the Olympics. I think for players, going to the Olympics is a privilege. It’s an awesome thing, especially for Germany. Obviously it would’ve been nice to go there. It’s just really frustrating.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)