At practice today, both Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov responded to the news that Russia had been banned from the PyecongChang Olympics by saying they believed Russian athletes should compete in the games under a neutral flag. This comes after there were some reports that Ovechkin believed Russians should boycott the games if they couldn’t represent their country — a sentiment that he now denies expressing.
While he was obviously disappointed in the decision to ban Russians from representing their country, the great eight’s reasoning for still going came down to all the hard work that people had put into preparing from the games. “Some athletes work out for maybe three years and get ready for Olympics,” Ovechkin told reporters. “They work so hard to get ready and do their best in Olympic Games. It is only one lifetime opportunity. It’s hard.”
Kuznetsov used similar reasoning for explaining why he thought athletes should still participate in the games. Athletes “prepare like 3 or 4 years before the Olympics and now it’s a little bit tough situation for them,” he said before discussion how participating in international hockey tournaments is a dream for young Russian athletes who grow up watching them on television.
It’s perhaps that dream of playing in the tournaments that caused Ovechkin to be one of the NHL’s fiercest critics when the league announced it wouldn’t be taking a break in the season to allow players to participate in the games. There was even some discussion about whether or not the captain would briefly leave the Capitals to participate in the tournament. As time went by, however, he eventually gave up on the idea of participating.
Despite these sentiments from Russian players, it still remains to be seen whether or not Russian athletes will field a hockey team under a neutral flag.