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Russian hockey star stays in KHL, cites Olympics as key

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 12 - Finland v Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19: Ilya Kovalchuk #71 of Russia celebrates after scoring a first-period goal against Finland during the Men’s Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk, a four-time Russian Olympian, chose to stay in the KHL rather than explore an NHL return in 2017-18 due largely to the NHL not participating in the PyeongChang Olympics.

“One of the main factors was the upcoming Olympic Games,” Kovalchuk said, according to his KHL team’s website. “In 2018, only players who play in European championships and the KHL can compete there.”

Kovalchuk, 34, shares the Russian men’s record of four Olympic hockey appearances with Sergei Gonchar and Pavel Datsyuk. He has been playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg since 2012, winning two of the last three Gagarin Cups and ranking second in the league in points last season.

Gonchar is retired. Datsyuk, who is four years older than Kovalchuk, also plays for SKA St. Petersburg and is eligible for the Olympics.

Kovalchuk is the youngest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player ever, when he suited up at age 18 in 2002.

In 2018, Datsyuk will be older than all but two previous Russian Olympic men’s hockey players, Igor Larionov in 2002 and Sergei Fedorov in 2010.

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