Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin said Tuesday he's still planning to represent Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, even if the National Hockey League stands by its decision not to participate.
"Yeah, I didn't change my mind and I won't," Ovechkin said. "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."
The NHL announced its decision to skip the 2018 Winter Games on Monday. The league cited a lack of compelling reasons from the other parties involved—the International Olympics Committee, International Ice Hockey Federation and NHL Players' Association—and said it considered the lingering debate "officially closed":
A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL's participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.
Ovechkin noted he's still hopeful the sides can reach an agreement for complete NHL participation but finished that sentiment by reiterating, "In my mind, like I said already, I'm going. It doesn't matter what," according to LeBrun.
Although he's the first player to publicly state he'll attend the Olympics, even against the NHL's wishes, others have spoken out about the decision.
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, one of Team USA's young stars, said getting to represent his country in the Olympics is something he's thought about for a long time, per Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. He helped the American team capture a gold medal in the 2014 U18 World Championship.
"It's a little bit disappointing," he said. "As a player who takes a lot of pride in representing his country and who's done it before, I can only speak for myself. I think it's something that the players and the NHL look forward to. As a young kid just breaking into the league, it's something that I definitely watched growing up and looked forward to every year."
All told, Russia could emerge as a massive favorite next year if the NHL's decision doesn't change. Not only does it sound like Ovechkin will play, but the KHL, the country's domestic league, hasn't moved toward a similar policy as its American counterpart.
So the Russians could feature a roster led by Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, while the American, Canadian, Swedish and Finnish squads are forced to field "B" teams.