MOSCOW — Let’s first rewind three years. It was my first day covering the Washington Capitals for The Washington Post, the first day of training camp in 2015. It also just so happened to be Alex Ovechkin’s 30th birthday. So when the captain met with the media that afternoon, naturally we wanted to know what presents he received.
“In Moscow, they gave me a ship,” he said.
Well, that’s an odd gift. The probing continued. What did he name the ship? “Rossiya,” Russian for Russia. How big is the ship? Uh, normal size, he said. You could tell he was starting to look a little confused by the line of questioning. But this was hard-hitting stuff! Where is the ship now? He said it was at his parents’ dacha in Moscow, their country home. Huh, doesn’t seem like the ideal place to put a ship. A Capitals staff member then told me that what Ovechkin really received was “a yacht.” Sure, that makes more sense, I guess.
But within a few hours, video surfaced of Ovechkin appearing on a Russian television show and receiving a sheep for his birthday, a riff on his last name because “Ovechka” is the Russian word for sheep. He named it Rossiya and said he would send it to his parents’ dacha. You see where this is heading — a big misunderstanding between two bizarre birthday gifts in what was an amusing first day on the job for me.
Fast-forward to a month ago, when I had the opportunity to visit the Ovechkin dacha on the outskirts of Moscow. Dachas are like seasonal second homes to many Russians, especially in the summer. Ovechkin spends most of his weekends during the offseason at this dacha, which has a small pond, a basketball court, a tennis court, an indoor pool and a garden.
Ovechkin’s lovely mother, Tatiana Ovechkina, offered me some tea while the previous night’s Capitals game was replaying on the television. It took me all of five minutes to ask if this famous sheep was really on site, sparing her the full story because of my sometimes-shaky Russian. She promised to show me all of the animals on the property.
The Ovechkins have five (!!!) German shepherds. Alex Ovechkin actually went to Germany to get the first one, Gary. One of the dogs is named “Ovi,” the strongest one, according to Tatiana. There are two fish tanks in the pool house. The family has roughly 40 Russian pigeons in one segment of a large wooden shed. As you walk through the shed, it feels like a miniature petting zoo. There are roosters and hens. And then in the last room are four sheep.
You see, after the family got Rosya — the sheep’s name got shortened from Rossiya — two years ago, Tatiana wanted to find her a life partner. So, she got a male sheep from Mordovia, the republic Tatiana’s family is from. The happy couple has had two kids, one girl and one boy. Tatiana was planning to shear them soon.