As NHL players whose teams had been eliminated from the Winter Olympic tournament boarded charter flights to leave Sochi on Thursday, Alex Ovechkin was unexpectedly absent. A few Russian players had elected to remain for the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday, but Ovechkin’s departure was prompted by another devastating development.
Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, underwent surgery for a heart condition in Sochi earlier this week, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee said, but his family had kept the news from him for three days until after Russia was eliminated Wednesday. After learning the news, Ovechkin, 28, went immediately to the hospital.
“I’m sure his parents didn’t want him distracted, but family means everything,” McPhee told reporters at the Capitals’ practice facility Thursday. “So that’s where he stays until he’s ready to come back.”
McPhee said Ovechkin’s father, who is 62, experienced what he described as “heart issues” following Russian’s preliminary-round game against Slovakia on Sunday. Russia won the game, 1-0, in a shootout.
McPhee said Ovechkin’s father was “in stable condition. He’s out of ICU.” He said the timing of Ovechkin’s return to the United States was uncertain. “We’ve told him to stay as long as necessary with your dad,” McPhee said.
McPhee added he has no expectations that the winger will be back when the Capitals’ NHL season resumes Thursday at Florida.
The health of his father is certain to be an additional emotional distraction for Ovechkin, who is already coping with the unceremonious ouster of the Russian hockey team from the Olympics. As the face of the Games, Ovechkin faced enormous pressure to deliver a gold medal on home ice, but he scored only one goal in the tournament — none in the final four games. Following Russia’s 3-1 loss to Finland in the quarterfinals Wednesday, Ovechkin was the only player called out by the Russian coach for not scoring enough.
Whenever Ovechkin does return to the Capitals, it’s impossible to gauge how these two misfortunes might influence him.
The importance of performing well in the Olympics has weighed on Ovechkin for years leading up to Sochi, and Russia’s disappointing exit in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had a profound impact on his scoring output.
“It’s certainly going to be a most difficult time in his life,” McPhee said. “The Olympics meant a great deal to him and his father’s sick, so it’s not going to be easy for him. But when he comes back, we expect he’ll give us everything he’s got as he always has.”
Anyone who has attended even a few Capitals’ practices in Arlington knows how close Ovechkin is with his father.
Mikhail Ovechkin, an immense man with snow-white hair, rarely misses his son’s on-ice workouts when he is visiting from Moscow. He’s a fixture in the bleachers to the left of the team’s bench. Despite speaking little English, he offers happy greetings to those he recognizes — from Ovechkin’s teammates to reporters — as he ambles to the dressing room to collect his son so they can zoom off for a home-cooked meal.
Dave Sheinin and Natasha Abbakumova in Sochi contributed to this report.