Alex Ovechkin has long been the face of Russian hockey, and this winter he will be one of the most prominent faces of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He’s already appeared in multiple advertisements in Russia promoting the Olympics, lobbied for NHL participation, and at the end of the month – if all the logistics come together – he will be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch once it’s lit.
“It’s a huge honor for me. I’m really proud the Russian Federation asked me to do it. I talked to Caps organization, I talked to my teammates and I explained everything,” Ovechkin said Tuesday. “It’s only once in your life opportunity to carry the torch and represent your country. Everybody say, ‘We’re happy for you. We going to do the same if we have invitation to that.’ I just have to work, my agent have to work with Russian Federation to figure out how I can do it best. I hope it’s going to work because I really want to do it.”
While it’s not ideal for the Capitals to have their star winger and captain taking a less-than-48-hour trip to Greece two days before the season opener, Coach Adam Oates made it quite clear that so long as he’s able to be back in time to attend practice and fly with the team to Chicago on Sept. 30, they won’t stand in his way.
Ovechkin understands the timing issues and is confident he would be able to take part in the torch relay without a noticeable absence from the Capitals.
“That’s the most important thing,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t want to miss the games or something like that.”
On to a few other highlights from Ovechkin’s 15-minute conversation with local reporters Tuesday.
>> Ovechkin said his fractured left foot healed and that it isn’t a concern for the start of the season. This summer, though, he had to learn how fast he could push his recovery after wearing a walking boot for a month and a half.
“Sometimes I’d be at a tennis tournament and I have like 10 minutes because Maria have a break and I take a tennis racquet and I play with her father. And I start running and [realize], ‘Oh God, I have a broken foot,’” Ovechkin said with a laugh. “When I take [the walking boot] off and I start running it was very hard because I didn’t move it most of the time. But right now it’s good.”
>> Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure from the NHL this summer made waves across the league and offered fuel to any speculation that other Russians might consider the same move. Ovechkin says he will honor his contract with the Capitals and isn’t about to bolt for the KHL, but he still believes every player has a right to make their own decision.
“I respect every player, they have own life. He decided to go back and I respect his decision. When somebody goes like, ‘Okay I’m going back,’ or ‘I’m not going back,’ I’m still going to respect it,” Ovechkin said. “He explained why. You can say bad things about him or if you want to say good things about him, all the pressure on him was because he’s Russian, that’s why. Some American guys go to KHL and after two months they say, ‘Okay, I want to cancel my contract and go back.’ Why nobody put pressure on them? It’s different situation. Of course he’s a bigger player than somebody else and somebody was not happy about it, but it’s life.”
>> Last year could be split in two very different segments for Ovechkin, much like the Capitals as a whole. Ovechkin in transition and once everything from the new position, new coaches, new system started to click. He won his third Hart Trophy thanks to his second-half resurgence and this year he knows there’s more for him to learn about excelling as a right wing.
“Next step is always harder step. If you take one step, you have to make two steps to get success,” Ovechkin said. “It’s not about me. It’s all about coaching staff, it’s all about my teammates and myself. We just have to get to big step forward to get success.”