As Ovechkin has become one of hockey’s most recognizable stars, he has used his notoriety to give back, and the American Special Hockey Association has been a passion of his. He has worked with the organization for four years and, on Friday afternoon, Ovechkin surprised some children from the program who were playing in a street hockey tournament in front of Capital One Arena.
He joined in their game for the next hour, cheering every goal, high-fiving his new teammates and even goaltending. Ovechkin didn’t cut the kids any slack, adding to his impressive career goal total with a few ball hockey snipes, but they weren’t intimidated because he has become a familiar face.
“They play hard,” Ovechkin said. “They lower me. A couple guys tried to hit me. I had fun as well. … They know me, and I know them.”
Ovechkin has built a relationship with ASHA, and Friday marked the fourth consecutive season he has hosted an event with the organization. Created in 2000 for players with developmental disabilities, ASHA gives people of all ages and abilities a chance to learn and grow by playing hockey. Over the years, Ovechkin has formed an especially close bond with 13-year-old Ann Schaab, whom he tried to set up for a goal Friday.
“I did not see that coming,” Ann said.
“The first year, the kids all mobbed him,” said Melissa Schaab, Ann’s mother. “Now they know he’s going to come play, and they know just to sort of relax and he will play for everyone. I love that they don’t mob him. They let him do his thing, and they’re there to play hockey with him. I like that it’s gone from that one-time thing three years ago to, ‘This is just what we do every start of the season: We play hockey with Ovi.’ … It’s still super exciting for Ann.”
Ann said she wished Ovechkin “good luck, have fun tonight, be awesome and tell Coach that I said hey.” Ovechkin ended the afternoon by presenting ASHA with a check for $5,000 from the NHL as part of the league’s Hockey Is For Everyone initiative. He then said goodbye, but he’ll see them again soon.
“If you have a chance to help someone, especially kids, you have to,” Ovechkin said. “We have that opportunity. We get lucky, you know? They’re not, so we try to give them a smile on their face, moment in their life. And they still remember what we did a couple years ago, so it’s a good time.”