ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) – Alex Ovechkin expects the Russian hockey team to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics although he should wear neutral uniforms.

After the International Olympic Committee banned Russian athletes from playing under their banner, Ovechkin said he supports the team's decision and that he's "pretty sure they're going." In the morning of Washington Capitals skating on Wednesday, Ovechkin and his Russian compatriot Evgeny Kuznetsov say they will encourage Russian athletes who choose to go to South Korea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his government will allow the Russians to compete as neutral athletes. Ovechkin recently launched a movement in support of Putin.

NHL players will not go 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 plays in the Kontinental Hockey League of Russia, says players "definitely have to go to the Olympics."

The KHL has not yet commented on the Olympic Games, although President Dmitry Chernyshenko was sanctioned for his role as part of the organizing committee of Sochi 2014. If the KHL decides to opt out of the tournament and not stop their season, It could affect the lists of several countries.

Ovechkin was vocal about representing Russia at the Olympics, even if the NHL was not, although he conceded before the season that it will not happen and hopes to play in Beijing in 2022. He played for Russia internationally 30 times, winning three gold medals in the world championship and called the Olympic Games a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.

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