ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Alex Ovechkin hopes the Russian hockey team participates in the 2018 Winter Olympics even though it would have to wear neutral uniforms.
After the International Olympic Committee banned Russian athletes from playing under their flag, Ovechkin said he supports the team's decision and is "pretty sure they're going." At the Washington Capitals' morning skate Wednesday, Ovechkin and fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov say they will cheer for the Russian athletes who choose to go to South Korea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes. Ovechkin recently launched a movement in support of Putin.
NHL players aren't going to the Olympics for the first time since 1994, and a team of Russian players would be considered one of the favorites in the men's hockey tournament. Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk, who's playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, says players "definitely have to go to the Olympics."
The KHL has not yet commented about the Olympics, though president Dmitry Chernyshenko was sanctioned for his role as part of the 2014 Sochi organizing committee. If the KHL decides to opt out of the tournament and not stop its season, it could affect several countries' rosters.
Ovechkin was vocal about representing Russia at the Olympics even if the NHL didn't go, though he conceded before the season that it won't happen and hopes to play in Beijing in 2022. He has played for Russia internationally 30 times, winning three world championship gold medals and called the Olympics a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.