COLUMBUS, Ohio – Earlier this week, when Alex Ovechkin and his confidants gathered to discuss the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, they aimed their crosshairs on the idea of winning a car. Honda, a title sponsor for the weekend, had planned to award Accord EX-Ls both to the final two picks of Friday night’s fantasy draft and to the MVP of Sunday’s actual event. So they outlined a basic plan. Ovechkin would try to get chosen last. If that failed, he would win MVP. And if that failed? No one knew.
“This wasn’t anything that was set up or contrived,” said David Abruytn, Ovechkin’s business representative. “It was, go have fun with it and try. There’s a lot of things that have to happen.”
Abruytn was speaking outside the home locker room Sunday night at Nationwide Arena, once everything had unfolded in a fashion far more dramatic than they initially scripted. Ovechkin had been tabbed 33rd overall in Friday’s draft, one spot shy of winning a car, because the two team captains saw how hard he was begging for the car and decided to make him sweat. Then, in the league’s highest-scoring All-Star Game ever, Ovechkin recorded a relatively paltry three assists, falling short of MVP honors.
But then Honda came along, having watched Ovechkin’s performance during the fantasy draft, when he spent the entire telecast pleading for the vehicular hardware. So Honda called the NHL. Then they called Abruytn. Then they decided, if Ovechkin indeed fell short of winning MVP, they would just donate a car anyway.
“We knew we were going to give away two cars this year,” said Nick Lee, the company’s national advertising manager. “Alex playing it up all through the broadcast was great, great theater for TV. He lent a real funny angle to it as well, did some things we never expected. Once he got very close to being the last guy, or the second to last guy, the once we saw the disappointment and reaction, we reached out.”
And here’s the kicker, the true reason the multi-millionare and avid car enthusiast spent all weekend stating his case for a free ride: He wanted to donate it to the Washington Ice Dogs, a local hockey team for children with developmental disabilities. (Earlier posts referenced the NoVa Cool Cats, another local hockey team serving the same mission, but the Capitals said that was a mistake.)
See, last fall, a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome named Ann Schaab summoned the courage to ask Ovechkin on a dinner date. It turned into a day-long event, held on the ninth anniversary of Ovechkin’s NHL debut. She received a tour of Ketter Capitals Iceplex. She asked her mother for a wedding ring, so she could propose to Ovechkin. She accepted his invitation to that night’s preseason game. She smelled his socks. They ate sushi in the owner’s lounge.
So Ann was on Ovechkin’s mind when he looked ahead to his fifth All-Star Game appearance, and sure he probably would have just purchased a car himself if Honda had not entered the picture, but where was the fun in that?
“Everybody felt like I just want a car to drive it,” he said. “Obviously I have lots of cars. Of course it kind of show time, do it for charity as well. Some maybe haters or somebody going to think I just need a car, but we do it for charity and good stuff.”
Except for Ovechkin, Abruytn, Capitals public relations director Sergey Kocharov and a handful of others, no one knew his true intentions. Not team captains Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews. Not reporters who kept asking why Ovechkin desired a car so badly, only to receive sly, cryptic answers. Not Honda, until they contacted Ovechkin’s camp and found out. The locker rooms had all but emptied of all-star teammates by the time Ovechkin revealed his plan.
“I’ll tell a couple guys, like I get a car, but not I’m going to give it to charity,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to find out right away.”
And as for the anticipated reaction when the car, manufactured here in Ohio and scheduled to get shipped to Arlington, eventually gets presented to Ann and the Washington Ice Dogs?
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to be really happy and smiling,” Ovechkin said. “But again, it’s great when you make those people smiling and happy. It’s good.”