Players from losing teams don’t necessarily celebrate outwardly. But inside the Capitals’ locker room, Ovechkin is different. It’s apparent during the limited period in which reporters are around him, and players say they notice it, too, behind closed doors.
“With guys like that, you can obviously tell if they’re unhappy. . . . He keeps to himself a little bit more,” teammate Troy Brouwer said. “He’s not quite as quirky around the dressing room. He wants to score goals.”
Said defenseman Mike Green: “He seems more quiet, not as outgoing maybe as he used to be. Maybe he’s just trying to be more focused, I don’t know.”
The Capitals opted to anoint Ovechkin as captain in January 2010, when the Russian-born sharpshooter was 24 years old. Teammates say Ovechkin isn’t a vocal leader, but they acknowledge he doesn’t have to be.
“Ovi is a guy we expect to lead by example, to be the identity of the team,” Halpern said. “You expect him to play with that rambunctious and powerful style that the whole city fell in love with.
“That’s the one thing about wearing a letter, or being a veteran player, is you can’t let your game affect what’s best for the team. We still look to Ovi to be the guy to lead us to these wins. If he’s frustrated one day, if he’s happy one day, that’s the look of the team.”
Growing up, apart
In 2007, the Capitals launched a “Young Guns” marketing campaign around Ovechkin, Green, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. On and off the ice, the group was tight-knit, driving to games together, hanging out away from the rink. A lot has changed since.
Ovechkin has “been hanging out with a whole new set of people,” said one person with knowledge of the locker-room dynamics. Among teammates, Ovechkin remains closest to Semin, a fellow Russian. “I don’t know, things have changed. They don’t hang out as much any more and it’s caused an uncomfortable situation within the team now, the chemistry with the guys. There’s no more ‘Young Guns,’ or whatever you guys in the media called it.”
The players are still friendly, but they’ve all grown away from the ice. Their relationships are now largely limited to the workplace.
“We used to hang out every day. Now, everybody has their own thing going on,” Green said. “We’ve grown up a bit.”
Ovechkin’s entire inner circle has turned over in recent years. When he was at his peak, his agent was Don Meehan, powerful and respected in hockey circles, and Konstantin Selinevich, a local businessman, handled his off-ice ventures. Dmitry Kapitonov, a former Olympic distance runner, oversaw his training. His agency arranged for Susanna Goruveyn to serve as his personal assistant and interpreter.