Alex Ovechkin had already spoken for nearly 15 minutes Wednesday when a Washington Capitals media relations official shouted to reporters that they had only time for two more questions with the freshly minted Stanley Cup champion. Ovechkin, clean-shaven and clear-eyed after a debaucherous celebration that spanned the previous five days, took questions calmly and quietly. Then he did something stunning: He waved off the directive to end the session.
“That’s it? I can talk more,” he said, before opening up for nearly another 10 minutes, unable to suppress the joy that he was feeling.
This wasn’t the Ovechkin who often abruptly ended his media scrums over the years, or during the past two months as the Capitals trudged through the playoffs toward their first championship. On Wednesday, as the new Stanley Cup champions returned to their practice facility for the final time — to take physicals and clear out lockers — before dispersing across the globe for summer vacation, Ovechkin simply didn’t want to stop talking about his new reality.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it’s still going to be going for a week or two. But I still can’t believe we won. I still can’t believe we did it. We shared our happiness, our emotions, our Stanley Cup with all of you guys. You know, all the family, all the fans. Every year when you come back here when you lose, you stand here with a bad face, not smiling, even if you smile it’s like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ But right now, you just realize what we did. It’s something special.”
This was a starkly different breakdown day from a year ago, when Ovechkin’s career appeared to be teetering on the edge of a cliff. After he produced one of the worst statistical seasons of his career in 2016-17, which included a second-round playoff exit for seemingly the umpteenth time, Capitals management made it clear that Ovechkin needed to become slimmer and quicker during the offseason. He showed up two weeks early for training camp, something he had not done before, and got to work.
A year later, at 32, the tone had changed drastically. Ovechkin is at the idyllic place in his career. He looked more nimble and powerful throughout the season. His statistics recovered from the previous season’s lows, and during Washington’s Stanley Cup run, he underscored that resurgence by scoring 15 playoff goals, a franchise record.
It was the perfect segue into a life-changing summer. He and his wife, Nastya, expect the birth of their first child in August. He will celebrate his milestone of 1,000 NHL regular season games with a trip to Barcelona to watch Lionel Messi, a gift from his teammates. And he will bring the Stanley Cup to Russia, where he plans to stay a month. Washington’s front office will not need to challenge him like it did last summer.
“What are we going to tell him? Work on your keg stands?” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan quipped Wednesday.
“He’s definitely enjoyed himself, that’s for sure. He likes to have fun. He’s not scared of a scene or anything like that,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who, after watching Ovechkin do a keg stand out of the Stanley Cup during the celebration Saturday, joined his captain for a swim in a fountain at the Georgetown Waterfront. “He’s earned it, like our whole group has, and you celebrate whichever way is true to yourself, and he’s being true to himself. It’s good.”
The celebration will at some point shift to Moscow, where Ovechkin plans to bring the Stanley Cup soon, while the country hosts the World Cup. The planning is only in its infancy, but Ovechkin was mulling the possibilities Wednesday. He wants to include all of his friends and family. He wants his grandmother to kiss it. He wants the kids at the academy he played at as a youngster, Dynamo Moscow, to see it. He might even include Messi.
“I will see him in the summer when I go back to Barcelona to see the game. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it’s going to be, but it’s going to be something special,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be something I’m going to share with all the people, all my family and friends.”
Russian celebrities have been reaching out to him over the past few days in admiration of his shirtless push-ups in the fountain, he said, although he has yet to hear from Russia President Vladimir Putin. That “means a lot,” if he does reach out, said Ovechkin, who also didn’t have any qualms with questions about visiting the White House to celebrate the title. He was simply in too good of a mood Wednesday.
There were the litany of questions he has become accustomed to on breakdown days over his career. Of course he will campaign for Barry Trotz to return as coach. Of course he doesn’t want to lose free agents. Of course he believes the Capitals can repeat next year, but only once he fully returns from celebrating this first title.
“Of course, you have dreams about it, but this is something unbelievable,” Ovechkin said. “Even today, when me and my wife were with the Cup, like, ‘Is it real or is it a dream?’ It’s real. We won.”
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