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Ilya Kovalchuk urges Russia hockey players to go to Olympics

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 11 - Russia v Norway

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18: Ilya Kovalchuk #71 of Russia celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against Lars Haugen #30 of Norway during the Men’s Ice Hockey Qualification Playoff game on day eleven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk, a four-time Olympian and three-time NHL All-Star, hopes to compete in Pyeongchang. And he hopes other Russians will join him as neutral athletes.

“It will unite the country,” he said, according to a Reuters translation of an R-Sport report. “All clean athletes must go.”

The 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who is eligible for the Olympics since he now plays in the KHL, was earlier Tuesday named to the Russian roster for a pre-Olympic tournament that starts next week.

“Patriotism and love for your country, it’s in your heart,” Kovalchuk said, according to The Associated Press. “For that you don’t have to shout or even wear the flag on your chest. And if, I hope to God, we manage to compete well, then we’ll definitely sing the anthem.”

The Russian national hockey team addressed a letter to president Vladimir Putin requesting that he allow Russian athletes to go to Pyeongchang as neutral athletes, according to Sport-Express.

Putin is expected to make his first public comments Wednesday on the IOC decision to ban Russia.

Kovalchuk chose to stay in the KHL this season rather than explore an NHL return due largely to the NHL not participating in the Olympics.

Kovalchuk shares the Russian men’s record of four Olympic hockey appearances with Sergei Gonchar and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk, a 39-year-old, four-time NHL All-Star, is also eligible for the Olympics as he plays in the KHL.

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