As you know by now, Alex Ovechkin joined Twitter before the 2009 All-Star game, and then bailed on the site for more than two years.

Last week, he came back. And how. As I type this, Ovechkin has tweeted 46 times in the seven days since announcing “im back!!!!” including a few classics from Tuesday’s Barcelona-Arsenal match. Like this one:


And this one:


(He’s a Barca fan, duh.)

Before that, he had tweeted a photo of himself with DJ Tiesto, and a photo of himself with a birthday-celebrating Alex Semin, and jokes about Charlie Sheen.

And so, what prompted this return to Twitter? Was it a directive from his advisers at IMG? A social-networking push from the Caps? A desire to post photos of Russian dumplings?

Nah. It was a new phone from Verizon.

“The old one was worn down,” said David Abrutyn, the IMG executive who works with Ovechkin. “When his new phone was getting set up and activated, they put the Twitter app on there. His friends in D.C. have been on it, and we certainly talked about it before. So we said, ‘You know what, go for it.’ “

This time, though, there would be no ghostwriter. When an NHL official suggested the All-Star game experiment, Ovechkin wasn’t even sure what Twitter was. He dictated his tweets - or “texts,” as he called them -- to former Caps’ PR director Nate Ewell. “Text this to the fans,” he would say, and Ewell would type out the message on his phone.

After the weekend was over, Ovechkin wanted to look at fan responses, so they sat in Ewell’s office and Ovechkin typed out a few dozen responses. And that was that. The winger brought up the idea of returning to Twitter a few times, both with Ewell and Abrutyn, but nothing ever came of it.

“I said, ‘Look, until you’re ready to do it on your own, have it fully be you, credibly and genuinely you, it’s not really a good idea,’ “ Abrutyn told me. “In this day and age, a ghostwriter doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So when you’re comfortable and when you’re ready to go, just tell everybody you’re back, and off you go.”

He was ready last Tuesday. Armed with his new phone, Ovechkin texted Ewell and asked for the account’s password. Then he let loose.

The duo had attracted something like 20,000 followers in January of 2009 before the tweeting stopped. Since then, the numbers kept building even though the account remained dormant. When Ovechkin got his new phone, he was already nearing 70,000 followers. Before the end of the first night, he had earned 8,000 new followers. Since then, he’s gotten 15,000 more. Sometime this week, he will pass D.C. United’s Charlie Davies to become the most-followed D.C. athlete on Twitter.

And he’s done in an extremely Ovechkin style, with multiple hat-tricks worth of the phrase “haha,” enthusiastic misspellings like announcing he was “in Maimi” or pledging to “bay some staff,” and rapid-fire deployments of exclamation marks.

“Alex is doing this on his own,” Abrutyn said. “You’re going to see an occasional misspelling, but that’s the beauty of Alex’s personality: you see what you get. And I think that’s what people enjoy.”