Alex Ovechkin: 'I'm going' to 2018 Olympics
Russian star not fazed by NHL's decision
Alex Ovechkin is sticking to his guns.
"I'm going," the Washington Capitals superstar said when asked his reaction to Monday's announcement that the National Hockey League would not shut down its regular season for three weeks to allow its players to attend the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
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On a day when the Capitals can clinch the Metropolitan Division crown as well as the Presidents' Trophy, Ovechkin faced a horde of media in Toronto following the morning skate ahead of Washington's game against the Maple Leafs.
Everyone wanted to know how he felt about the league's controversial decision. Ovechkin has been outspoken about his desire to represent Russia in the Olympics.
"I didn't change my mind and I won't," Ovechkin said. "I think the situation was the same before Sochi [in 2014]. They try to do some deals ... I'm pretty sure everything is going to be fine. They just want some big story about it."
Ovechkin believes there is still time for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the league's owners to get a better deal from the International Olympic Committee.
"There's still a long time to make a decision and they can say whatever," Ovechkin said. "Next year's schedule is not out there yet… and you can see they don't bluff, but still there's a long time and everything can change. But in my mind, like I said, I'm going, it doesn't matter."
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has said he would support Ovechkin's desire to play in the Olympics, something the player greatly appreciates.
"Our owner understands my view, [fellow Russian Evgeny] Kuznetsov's view, [Sweden's Nicklas] Backstrom's view, [Marcus] Johannson's view and the same with [Canadian goalie Braden] Holtby," Ovechkin said. "Everybody wants to be there. For me it's just a situation where you have to take some time and in the future it's going to be fine. I remember before, I think before Sochi it was the same situation because it was in Russia and all kinds of stuff, politics.
"Everything was fine and everybody was happy to be in the Olympic Games."
Ovechkin plans to play in Olympics. Says Caps owner will allow him to go. Believes there is still time for NHL to make a deal to go. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CBC?src=hash">#CBC</a>—@HockeyBroph
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews knows all about the Olympic experience, having been to two previous Games, but said he would respect the decision of his owners and employers if the NHL continues to say no to participating.
Even so, he disagreed with the "short-sightedness" of the league's decision.
Toews on NHL Olympic decision: "It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next CBA negotiation rolls around." <a href="https://t.co/WB66V2BL6A">pic.twitter.com/WB66V2BL6A</a>—@MarkLazerus
'A bitter pill'
James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed there is still time for NHL owners to change their minds and allow players to attend the Games.
"There's still a lot of time," the American said. "Obviously when an official announcement is made there has to be some weight put into that, and at this point it doesn't look like we'll go, but we'll see what happens."
A number of NHL stars, including Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson, have spoken out against the NHL's decision to skip the Olympic Games. If push comes to shove, van Riemsdyk wonders if others will follow Ovechkin's lead and bolt their NHL teams to play in the Olympics.
"It's hard to say," van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously guys are passionate about wanting to be there so I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Guys love representing their country on [the Olympic] stage and it is a bitter pill to swallow for sure. As players we have shown we want to be there and made that very clear, but this decision was made outside of us."
"I'm sure some people will," Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner added. "I know it means a lot to a lot of players. It is one of those things that you obviously don't get too many chances to do so it is pretty cool."
Van Riemsdyk said the NHL is missing an opportunity to try to grow a sport that most believe ranks last among the four major professional sports leagues in North America in terms of fan interest.
"Just for the sport in general, it's a shame that the best players won't be there," van Riemsdyk said. "I really enjoyed my experience going to the Olympics. Obviously we fell short of our goal, but just the whole aura of being an Olympian and being there with the other athletes and playing on that stage was pretty cool."
Asked if being an Olympian was one of his goals growing up, Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, who would almost certainly have been included on the U.S. team, said, "Of course, but that is not where my head is at now," adding his focus is on Tuesday's game against the Capitals.
Toronto coach Mike Babcock coached Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi, but didn't offer much regarding the NHL's decision to skip the games in South Korea.
"I'm disappointed," Babcock said. "I've been twice… greatest event you'll ever go to in your life."