Alex Ovechkin grew up watching Russian national teams compete in the Olympics and World Championships, and he’s always attached a great deal of importance to being able to represent his country.
The significance wearing a Russian jersey carries for him is why Ovechkin has made it quite clear that he intends to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, regardless of whether the NHL strikes an agreement to let all of its players take part.
“When I was growing up, only [care about] Olympics and World Championship. It was very important, all media all [attention is on] Olympics,” Ovechkin said. “I remember, I was little kid in my country home, far from Moscow, little kids, we watched the Olympics, summer Olympics. Everybody is involved. It’s nice, to be honest, when you can be there.“
On Wednesday, Capitals Coach Adam Oates said he didn’t believe NHL players should participate in the Olympics, but Ovechkin was unfazed by the different opinion.
“I think every person have own mind, of course,” Ovechkin said. “For his position, if we go there — and we probably will go there — he don’t want [us] to get hurt or something like that. It’s a coach’s [opinion], it’s always like this.”
While Ovechkin has particularly strong feelings about being able to take part in 2014 because they’re being held in Russia, he’s certainly not the only NHL player who would like to represent his country.
“It will be fun to play for your home country, obviously, and Olympics is kind of nice experience and good experience, and it’s a fun experience,” Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom said. “Obviously it would be fun, but we’ll see what the rules are going to be.”
Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman is the executive director of Canada’s men’s hockey team for the 2014 Olympics and he believes NHL participation in the tournament is important to help broaden the sport’s appeal.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world for us to market our players,” Yzerman told Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times. “I think the NHL has done a very good job of improving its brand and getting out there in the world, particularly Europe, and going and playing games over there. The Olympics is the one time the whole world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because we have the best players in the world.”
Europeans aren’t the only players who take considerable pride in representing their country, of course.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos, 23, wasn’t selected for Canada’s 2010 team in Vancouver, but he grew up in a generation that watched NHLers play in the Olympics and could entertain the dual dream of being a professional hockey player and representing his country on the largest stage. Prior to Nagano in 1998, only amateurs could participate in the Olympic tournament.
Stamkos wasn’t asked about Oates’s comments, but he was asked whether he valued the ability to represent Canada and if it was something he thought about while growing up.
“As a Canadian kid, if you don’t think about that something’s wrong with you,” Stamkos said. “Any time you get a chance to represent your country at any stage is something you dream of as a kid.”
While the decision to allow NHL players to take part in the games will be made by the league and players’ association in conjunction with the IIHF and IOC, Stamkos said he believes every player should be able to represent their country.
“I think you should be able to, no question. I don’t think anyone should be able to take that right away from you, representing your country. It’s above everything else as well,” Stamkos said. “I personally think guys will be able go over there and represent their countries and play, I know some guys would probably go over there anyways, even if they couldn’t. I really don’t think it will be an issue heading forward.”