(Reuters) - Alex Ovechkin has given up on his dream of playing for the Russian ice hockey team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a conclusion he begrudgingly accepted with the NHL refusing to halt its season to accommodate the event.
Ovechkin had long said he would compete in South Korea even if he was the only NHL player there but the International Ice Hockey Federation said this week anyone under contract with the league will not be able to play in the Games.
“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 in a statement released through the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
“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.”
NHL players have competed in the Olympics since 1998 but the league, unhappy over the prospect of shutting down its season for almost three weeks, said in April it was not planning to send its players to South Korea.
Several players had said they would go irrespective of the NHL’s decision but none were more outspoken than Ovechkin, who is one of the greatest Russian players of all time and one of the NHL’s most marketable names.
”This is not just about me but all the NHL players who want to play and have a chance to win Gold for their country,“ said Ovechkin. ”Me, my team mates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited.
“NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!”
Ovechkin has competed at the last three Olympics, his best result coming in 2006 when Russia finished fourth. But the 31-year-old forward is hopeful of returning to the Olympic stage at the 2022 Beijing Games.
“There is nothing like Olympic Games. It is still my dream to win an Olympic Gold medal for my country,” Ovechkin said. “I hope things will change and all of us will have a chance to go again in 2022.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond