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Ovechkin, NHL players grudgingly accept Olympic absence

FILE – In this Feb. 13, 2014, file photo, Russia forward Alex Ovechkin, left, keeps the puck from Sovenia defenseman Matic Podlipnik during a men’s ice hockey game at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Washington Capitals star Ovechkin released a statement Thursday night, Sept. 14, 2017, through the NHL team expressing frustration about the league’s decision to skip the Olympics. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer

With 644 words and two exclamation points, Alex Ovechkin put a final period on his and other NHL players’ dreams of playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The Washington Capitals’ Russian superstar acknowledged in a lengthy statement released by the team Thursday night that, although he’d love to represent his country, he knows it’s not in the cards.

“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,” Ovechkin said. “Now the IIHF and NHL say my country is not allowed to ask anybody in the NHL to play and there is nothing to talk about anymore.”

Ovechkin’s comments come after The Athletic reporte d that deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the International Ice Hockey Federation assured the NHL that any players under contract won’t be allowed to play in South Korea in February. In an email to The Associated Press this week, Daly said: “I don’t expect any players under NHL contract participating in the Olympics.”

Five months after the NHL announced it wouldn’t be going, most players moved from anger to acceptance. There’s still disappointment and frustration about the process, though Ovechkin’s statement provides some closure after he was the most vocal player, seemingly no matter the consequences.

“NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics,” Ovechkin said. “It sucks that will we not be there to play!!”

Reacting to Ovechkin’s statement that said players “should not have to be in position to make this choice,” Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators tweeted : “Well said. Representing your country in the biggest event ever is something that’s more than special. And I’m proud I got to play at least 1.”

That sentiment is shared by most potential Olympians who won’t get that chance this time around. The NHL Players’ Association in April called it a “shortsighted decision” by the league, and those feelings haven’t changed.

“It’s disappointing,” said Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who would’ve been a lock to play for Canada if healthy. “I’ve never got that chance. I would love to be able to play in Olympics. I’ve heard that they’re real fun.”

Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane won a silver medal with the United States in 2010 and also played in Sochi in 2014. He will only be able to root for the Americans in a few months.

“You always relish the opportunity to play for your country, and you don’t want to miss too many of those opportunities, especially when it’s at the caliber of the Olympics,” Kane said. “It would’ve been fun to go to South Korea and to play in the Olympics. Obviously it’s not going to happen.”

It’s an especially tough blow for Russian players, many of whom were on the Sochi team that did not win a medal on home ice. Evgeni Malkin recently told Sovietsky Sport that he hoped the Pittsburgh Penguins would let him go to the Olympics, adding of the NHL’s decision: “There’s nothing good about this at all.”

St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who played alongside Ovechkin and Malkin in Sochi, said players “get pride playing for their country” and expressed frustration that executives took his and others’ Olympic opportunity away.

“You want something for all your life and then some guys just take it away without obvious reasons,” Tarasenko said. “If it’s reasons, it’s money, but a lot of players want to be there. When I grow up I want to represent my country, especially in Olympic Games. … When somehow from nowhere somebody took it away, I don’t think it’s the right way to deal with it.”

Daly told The Athletic last week that he wasn’t worried about outlining potential discipline to teams for allowing players to go to the Olympics because he doesn’t “believe it’s going to be an issue.” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said on multiple occasions he would allow Ovechkin and his top players to go because he felt loyalty to them.

“If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, ‘We want to go play for our country,’ how am I going to say no?” Leonsis said in February. “I might get fined, I might get punished in some way, but I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex.”

Ovechkin thanked Leonsis for his support, but that won’t even be an option.


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