Ilya Kovalchuk the latest Russian star to declare intent on playing in 2014 Olympics

A third high-profile Russian NHL star has vowed to play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi regardless of whether or not the league decides to continue participating beyond the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk has joined fellow Russian lynchpins Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in his decision to take part in the 2014 tournament.

“Having the Olympics is the biggest thing ever (for hockey) in Russia,” Kovalchuk said in an interview for an upcoming story in The Hockey News. “We have to play. There is no choice. Your team is important, but you have to be loyal to your country. We must play no matter what the NHL does. Having the Olympics in Russia means so much.”

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The NHL has not yet decided whether or not it will be willing to shut down for two weeks so its best players can continue to play in the Olympics. The threats by some of its best players certainly makes for awkward conditions for the league and creates a situation where there could be a full-scale revolt by Russian players in 2014.

There is little doubt Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk represent three of the best players in the world today and it’s believed a desire to have the best players in the Olympics is shared by a majority of fellow players in the NHL.

Look out for the Oct. 12 issue of THN, where we will examine the situation in more depth.