When the Olympics hits Sochi in Russian for 2014, NHL’s Russians want the NHL to participate. While NHLers are currently streaming into Vancouver to take part in the 2010 Olympic Games, the Russians of the National Hockey League are already voicing their commitment to the Olympics in Sochi and don’t seem prepared to take “no” for an answer.
The NHL has participated in the Olympics so far in Nagano, Turin, Salt Lake City, and now Vancouver. Leaving Russia, a place where hockey is growing by leaps and bounds due to the rabid popularity of players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, off the list would be a mistake.
Russia boasts the Kontinental Hockey League and is seeing an explosion in hockey popularity that few have experienced. It may even turn out that this new wave of Russian players in the NHL may outdo the previous wave of players (Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, etc.) in terms of popularity. Players like Ovechkin, Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Ilya Kovalchuk are big names in Russia.
It turns out that the NHL actually needs the Russian players to put butts in seats, too, so the Russian explosion may be felt over here in North America as well. Their fast-paced, exciting style draws fans in and then out of their seats.
Some of the game’s most exciting players are already saying that they’re going to lace the skates for Russia in 2014 no matter what happens with NHL participation in the Olympics. “I’ll go play the Olympic Games for my country,” Ovechkin said. “If somebody says to me you can’t play, see ya.”
The NHL has been reluctant to sign on for more Olympic participation due to the fact that it isn’t sure it can market its players during the “odd hours” in which the events will occur in Sochi. The league fears that a lack of ratings will cause things to come to a virtual standstill.
It’s not just the Russians that are pulling for the NHL to make up their minds on Sochi, as Ovie’s “rival” Sidney Crosby tossed his two cents into the discussion. “Russian or not Russian, I can understand,” he said. “I think we definitely feel strongly, me personally and I think all the players do, that it could be the opportunity of a lifetime, especially the guys from Russia. It only happens once.”
“Obviously, we want to play in our home country in front of our home crowd, it’s huge for us,” Sergei Gonchar said. “The Russians have been playing in the league for a while and they’ve done a lot for this league and, hopefully, the NHL will reward us with the Olympics. We’re all hoping for it. Some of them are saying we have to play there, and I agree with them. Hopefully, they are going to respect our opinion.”
Kevin Lowe, a Team Canada Olympic executive, agreed. “It would be a terrible mistake if the NHL didn’t go,” Lowe said.
Indeed it would be.
Posted by Jordan Richardson.