Moscow: The Russian government stepped up pressure on the NHL to commit to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, saying the country`s best players were prepared to risk fines and suspension to play in the Games.
The Russian Embassy in Ottawa released a statement on Thursday emphasising the strong backing for the Sochi Games by Russian NHL players.
"I would rather pay fines and still go," Pittsburgh Penguins` Evgeni Malkin, who claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy last season as the Stanley Cup MVP, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Washington Capitals` Alex Ovechkin, twice winner of the league`s most valuable player honours, said: "Nobody can say to me, `You can`t play for your country in the Olympic Games.`
"I`ve played a lot for my country and I know what patriotism is."
"I just felt what Russia is about, how dear and big it is and how we -- hockey players and the national team -- are loved there."
"When you think of people like those you want to win the Olympics twice as much."
The lobbying comes as the NHL considers ending its Olympic participation after the 2010 Vancouver Games over concerns that shutting down the league for two weeks in the middle of the season is having a negative impact.
The Russian statement, however, argues the NHL`s reluctance to commit to Sochi has roots in the league`s long-running dispute with the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), over player signings, transfer fees and control of the potentially lucrative European market.
"None of that should matter because these are the Olympics and the best players in the world should be playing in them," the head of the KHL, Russian billionaire Alexander Medvedev, said in the statement.
"For people to speculate about keeping the best players out, it`s destroying the Olympics and it`s hurting the growth of hockey."