Throughout last season Alex Ovechkin made it known to anyone who would listen that he was representing his host country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – whether the NHL approved or not.
Fortunately for the Capitals, the NHL and its players announced today that the league has come to an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation that clears the path for NHL players to participate in the hockey tournament, which runs from Feb. 12-23.
Ovechkin is such a legendary figure in Russia that he’s been asked to carry the Olympic torch during its 123-day run through the streets of Russia.
“Of course it means a lot for everybody, for all the Russians,” Ovechkin said at the time he accepted the torch invitation. “I’ve been in the Olympic Games and I know exactly how it feels to play there. It’s pretty big, biggest event in the world.
“I’m very proud I’m one of the guys who is going to have the torch. I’m very happy and it means a lot to me.”
Ovechkin will be seeking his first Olympic gold medal in Sochi, but he won’t be the only Capital representing his country.
Here’s a list of Olympic hopefuls on the Capitals’ roster:
The Caps have just three Americans on their roster – defensemen John Carlson, Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy.
Carlson, who was born in Natick, Mass., finished seventh among American-born players with 22 points last season. He would need to have a very strong first half of the season to earn a spot on an All-American blue line that could feature names like Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh and Brooks Orpik.
The Caps have 13 Canadians on their roster. Among them, forward Troy Brouwer [Vancouver] and defensemen Mike Green [Calgary] and Karl Alzner [Burnaby, B.C.] have the best chance to make a Canadian squad looking to defend its gold medal.
The Caps did not have a member on that 2010 gold medal team, but Brouwer has emerged as one of the NHL’s top power forwards and his size and grit could be attractive Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Lindy Ruff.
Green is coming off a strong season in which he finished ninth among Canadian defensemen with 26 points in 35 games. But he’ll need to beat out offensive blue liners like P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Cody Franson, Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf and Brian Campbell.
Alzner is a solid defensive defenseman but, like Green, is up against stiff competition like Weber, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Dan Girardi.
Like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom figures to be a lock to represent his native country. The 25-year-old native of Gavle, Sweden was too young to be on the 2006 Swedish team that struck gold in Turin, Italy, but he remains one of the best playmakers in the world. Backstrom, who was tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the most points by Swedish-born NHLers last season [each with 4] will hed a strong contringent that includes Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Johan Franzen and Loui Eriksson.
Marcus Johansson has an outside chance of joining Backstrom in Sochi, but only if he shows he can handle top-line duties with Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Team Czech Republic
Martin Erat, who is from Trebic, Czech Republic, won a bronze medal with the Czechs in the 2002 Salt Lake Games and should earn a spot on the 2014 team, especially if he gets off to a strong start in his first full season in Washington.
Erat, 31, should join a veteran Czech contingent that includes Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Jake Voracek, Jiri Tlusty and Vinny Prospal.
Defenseman Tomas Kundratek and goaltender Michal Neuvirth also have an outside chance of representing the Czech Republic in Sochi.