NHLERS NO LONGER HOLD­ING TORCH FOR 2018

Ovechkin and oth­ers grudg­ingly ac­cept an Olympic ap­pear­ance in PyeongChang is not hap­pen­ing, writes Stephen Whyno.

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS -

Af­ter be­ing out­spo­ken about go­ing to the 2018 Win­ter Olympics no mat­ter the con­se­quences, even Alex Ovechkin has given up and turned his at­ten­tion to the Bei­jing Games in 2022.

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ Rus­sian su­per­star ac­knowl­edged the door is closed on him and other NHL play­ers play­ing in South Korea in Fe­bru­ary, the re­sult of the league’s de­ci­sion to skip the Olympics for the first time since 1994. With the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion not al­low­ing any player with an NHL con­tract to par­tic­i­pate, Ovechkin has be­grudg­ingly ac­knowl­edged that his Olympic hopes are on hold.

“It is still my dream to win an Olympic gold medal for my coun­try,” Ovechkin said in a state­ment. “I hope things will change and all of us will have a chance to go again in 2022.”

Five months af­ter the NHL an­nounced it wouldn’t be go­ing, most play­ers have moved from anger to ac­cep­tance. There is still dis­ap­point­ment and frus­tra­tion, though Ovechkin made it clear where things stand: “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.”

An IIHF spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any of­fi­cial as­sur­ances, but added: “We would not per­mit any player un­der con­tract with an NHL team to par­tic­i­pate in PyeongChang with­out them first ob­tain­ing the nec­es­sary per­mis­sions.”

Those per­mis­sions aren’t com­ing and play­ers aren’t happy about the op­por­tu­nity be­ing taken away from them.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing,” said Edmonton Oil­ers cap­tain Con­nor McDavid, who would have 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.”

NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said for months that team own­ers were not in­ter­ested in putting the sea­son on hold for three weeks to let their play­ers leave for the Olympics. The re­luc­tance was not new, but it was still a sur­prise in April when the league an­nounced that it would not al­low its play­ers to par­tic­i­pate.

Chicago Black­hawks winger Patrick Kane won a sil­ver medal with the United States in 2010 and also played in Sochi in 2014 and ex­pects to be cheer­ing that team along this time.

“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 cal­i­bre 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 chose to opt out of the Olympics.

“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.”

McDavid is only 20, Kane 28 and Tarasenko 25, so they should have an­other op­por­tu­nity should the NHL re­turn in Bei­jing. Some ex­pect guar­an­tee­ing Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion mov­ing for­ward to be part of the next round of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing talks, even though the tour­na­ment af­fects less than a quar­ter of the league’s play­ers.

“Even­tu­ally, the NHL is go­ing to have us play the Olympics again,” Swede Nick­las Back­strom said. “But it is what it is now. We’ve just got to look for­ward and hope­fully we can play the next one.”

The next one could be too late for some play­ers, though.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate,” said Wash­ing­ton’s T.J. Oshie, who helped the U.S. beat Rus­sia in a mem­o­rable marathon shootout game in Sochi. “I feel sorry for the peo­ple that are in this four-year win­dow that it’s not go­ing to be able to hap­pen to them or it’s go­ing to be harder for them to make it in four years.”

Alex Ovechkin

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