Ivan Provorov is disappointed.
Not bitter and disgusted like Alex Ovechkin may feel, but upset nonetheless that the NHL won’t be participating in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It is unfortunate and a little sad, because every time you get a chance to represent your country it’s something special,” said Provorov. “It’s a different type of feeling because you get together, you have to jell real fast and find chemistry. It’s a shorter tournament, two to three weeks. Every time you get a chance to play for your country it’s something special. It is very unfortunate and sad that NHL players can’t go.”
The reality will hit home when Russia opens the Olympic tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 14 against Slovakia. Had the NHL and the Players Association struck an agreement, this would have been Provorov’s first trip to the Olympics and probably his only opportunity to play with superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, iconic figures he grew up watching as a kid in Yaroslavl, who are no longer in the NHL.
“Datsyuk is definitely one of them,” said Provorov. “Growing up there was Sergei Gonchar. I got to watch a little bit of (Sergei) Zubov. He was an unbelievable player, a great two-way defenseman.”
Four years ago, Provorov was a 17-year-old skating for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL when his native Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There was a tremendous level of expectations for the Russian hockey team that finished a very disappointing fifth. Since the incorporation of NHLers in the Olympics, Russia hasn’t medaled since winning bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and the last time they claimed gold came in 1992 when the former Soviet nations formed the Unified team. Provorov wasn’t even born yet.
Still, the importance and relevance of winning Olympic gold is not lost on the 21-year-old defenseman. Provorov comprised a Russian team that took the bronze at the World Championships and he’s been part of two silver medal winning team at the World Junior Championships.
“Hockey is one of the main sports back home. Everybody watches it and everybody loves it,” said Provorov. “That would be huge. It would be special. It’s a different feeling playing in the NHL. It’s a longer season. Eighty-two games and then playoffs. It’s a grind. There, it’s a different feeling because you get together real fast.”
Along with former Los Angeles Kings blueliner Slava Voynov, Provorov may have been Team Russia’s top defenseman in the tournament. He would have been tasked to play some big minutes while shutting down some of the most talented lines assembled. Some hockey players could be overwhelmed saddled with that level of responsibility, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall believes Provorov would have handled the pressure with the same calmness and composure of playing 20-25 minutes every night in the NHL.
“I don’t think he’s the type of kid that needs a shot in the arm or perform at a certain event to elevate his game,” said Hextall. “Ivan’s a very driven player. He brings a terrific focus and work ethic to the rink every day. I guess you can always say it may benefit him, but I think Ivan playing in the NHL every day as a young kid is benefitting him right now as well.”
Why Provorov doesn’t harbor the resentment like other players around the league, including teammate Jake Voracek, is that he doesn’t exactly know what he’s missing out on. His Olympic dream is on hiatus, and come 2022 in Beijing, Provorov will be 25 and arguably in the prime of his career.
“I’m young, so hopefully in 4 years I’ll have another chance to go.”