In what was little more than a formality, Alex Ovechkin was named Tuesday to the 2014 Russian Olympic team that will face great pressure and expectations in Sochi.
“It means a lot. I’m very proud of myself and really proud for my family,” Ovechkin said of being named to a third Olympic team. “It’s huge.”
Ovechkin, 28, is one of the most prominent faces of the 2014 Winter Olympics, serving as an ambassador for the Games and being the first Russian citizen to carry the Olympic torch once it was lit in Olympia, Greece, back in September. He’ll be in the spotlight even more come February as Russian aims to capture its first Olympic medal since a bronze finish in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The star right winger is off to a strong offensive start in the first half of the NHL season, leading the league in goals (31) and sitting second on the Capitals in points (43). But this year Ovechkin will be judged not only by what he does for Washington but how he performs for Russia in the Olympics where he will likely line up as a left wing.
“It’s all about the coach. I can play right side or left side,” Ovechkin said. “If they need me on the right side I’m going to play on the right side but I think I’m going to play on the left side because we have a lot of right wings.”
Ovechkin went through a well-documented transition to right wing last season in Adam Oates’s first year as coach but spent every prior year of his career on the left side. Oates said he’s not concerned about the affect switching back to left wing for the Olympics could have on Ovechkin and simply wants the reigning Hart Trophy winner to do whatever Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov asks.
“It’s like a two-week all star game over there. I want him to do well. I want all our guys that go to do well. The way they play, the rinks however they’re structured, whatever system the coach wants to play his job is to fit into that system,” Oates said. “If you ask me what should he play, I would hope the coach sees what he’s done on the right side and plays him with [Evgeni] Malkin or something like that, so they can go North. But that depends on how their coach wants to coach that team.”
Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, a 2010 first-round draft pick, who chose to stay in Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League with hopes it would help his chances of making the 2014 Olympic squad, did not make the team. Former Capitals winger and current member of the Carolina Hurricanes Alexander Semin also did not make the Russian team.
While captains and alternates have not been named by the Russian Hockey Federation yet, Ovechkin was unwavering in his support for one particular player — Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk.
“I think Datsyuk going to be captain. To be honest with you that type of player he have respect on the ice and off the ice,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t know who’s going to be captain but my opinion of who have to be captain is Datsyuk.”