MOSCOW — The silver sparkled in the late Sunday afternoon sunlight as the Stanley Cup made its way toward Red Square. Its bearer wore jeans, a black polo and a flat-brimmed NHL All-Star Game cap as he strode toward the gated entrance with a small entourage circling him — makeshift security. But despite his otherwise nondescript appearance, the hulking chalice made Alex Ovechkin unmistakable, one of Russia’s most recognizable athletes carrying hockey’s grandest trophy to his country’s most iconic spot.
He immediately was swarmed as people tried to shove their way through the cameras following him to touch the trophy or the man. They pleaded for a photo or an autograph. They yelled their congratulations. “Great job, Sanya!” some shouted, calling him by his Russian nickname.
“Alex Ovechkin is in Red Square with the Stanley Cup,” one woman frantically whispered into her cellphone as she tried to keep up with his brisk strides.
With St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background, Ovechkin stopped, and his agent and a Washington Capitals spokesman attempted to keep the crowd back. Ovechkin asked the people posted behind him to clear a path so that the cathedral could be visible.
“Can I please get a picture?” he asked of what had become a mob.
The crowd obliged, parting to create a clearing. He then hoisted the Stanley Cup above his head to the sound of cheers. Phones followed the Cup up to get the shot of Ovechkin finally returning home with the prize so many expected he would claim one day.
It has been a month since the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup championship, and in a weekend 13 years in the making, Ovechkin was awarded two days with the Stanley Cup in his hometown, a tradition for the winning team’s captain. For one of Moscow’s most beloved sons, it represented a prophecy fulfilled.
“I wanted to be the guy who brings the Cup,” said Ovechkin, who had promised as much as recently as last summer.
Ovechkin returned Saturday to the Dynamo hockey club facility where he played as a teenager and where there’s a large photo of him in the main lobby that he signed, “Thanks for everything.” When Ovechkin was 14, Hall of Famer Igor Larionov, who won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, visited Dynamo and spoke of his career and his championships.
As Ovechkin walked around his old locker room a year ago, he told Dynamo Coach Vladimir Vorobiev that he would be back with the Stanley Cup and they would drink beer together. On Saturday, Ovechkin had the Stanley Cup to his left with a tray of food on his right as his van pulled up to the training center, an arch with light blue and white balloons and a pedestal for the trophy awaiting his arrival at the front of the building. He went through the back entrance for a few quiet moments. This was where he ran laps after every practice and “hated it,” Ovechkin said, still able to picture his father sitting on the bench watching him.
He set the Stanley Cup on a couch before he picked it up again and carried it up the stairs, where Dynamo has its museum. The signed jerseys and sticks of notable former players are in glass cases, and Ovechkin immediately picked out Capitals teammate Nicklas Backstrom’s display from when they played there together during the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
With the Stanley Cup still in his grasp, he turned in place as his eyes scanned the room, perhaps considering that a photo of him visiting with the Stanley Cup soon would be proudly displayed. After he told a group of kids in Dynamo jerseys to follow their dreams and then posed for photos with the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin laced up skates and carried the trophy onto the rink where he once practiced, hoisting it up as someone on the bench warned him not to fall because the blades were dull. He then returned to the locker room, set the Stanley Cup down and clinked frosted mugs with Vorobiev.
“You know, Alex is a big star,’ Vorobiev said. “When he’s young, every guy who play with him, is working with him, he know he’s going to be a big star.”
The Stanley Cup made its first voyage to Russia in 1997, the summer that Detroit won with five Russians, and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin brought the trophy to Moscow the past two summers. But perhaps no player had higher hopes placed on him than Ovechkin, the first overall pick in 2004 who became one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history. He first saw the trophy when he visited Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame as a Capitals rookie. Apparently unconcerned with superstition, he touched it.
“I knew one day we would win it,” he said.
It was after 1 p.m. on Saturday when the Stanley Cup finally made it through customs and Moscow traffic and into Ovechkin’s hands again. He set it on a table as he passed through a metal detector for a gathering of fans at the Moscow State University campus, there for a viewing party of Russia’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game against Croatia. As he lifted it above his head for the crowd, one man yelled to him, “We’ve been waiting for you our entire lives.”
Ovechkin posed for more than 3,000 photos as part of an event organized by the Putin Team, a social media movement Ovechkin started in November to support Russian President Vladimir Putin. He shook so many hands that he later asked for a wet napkin. The night finished with a private party at a ritzy karaoke club with a guest list that included famous Russian actors, musicians, Capitals teammates Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov and former Washington center Sergei Fedorov.
As Ovechkin waited to make his grand entrance and carry the Stanley Cup into the ballroom, the master of ceremonies introduced him: “This is a moment to remember. He’s been waiting for this Cup for a long, long time.”
After a hectic and public first day with the trophy, Ovechkin chose to make Sunday more private. He took the Stanley Cup to a closed hockey game with high-ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — but not Putin. He visited his family’s childhood apartment, laying with the trophy on the twin bed he used to sleep in. Then he and his parents went to the cemetery where his older brother, Sergey, rests after he died of a blood clot after a car accident when Ovechkin was 10. The Stanley Cup minders stayed in the car as Ovechkin carried the trophy to the headstone.
“It’s hard,” Ovechkin said. “But I think it was very important for me personally because he’s my brother obviously. He’s motivated me to play hard and give what I can on the ice.”
He then took the Stanley Cup to the most public place in the country, where the Kremlin walls enclose a cobblestone square with the colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral at the center. Slava Fetisov and Larionov took photos there when they brought the trophy to Moscow as part of the Red Wings’ Russian Five with Fedorov, but Ovechkin was quick to point out that his moment was different — “I’m pretty sure there was not lots of people around them,” he said.
They had been waiting for that iconic shot as long as he had.
“I don’t know if it was me or Stanley Cup,” Ovechkin said. “But both of us give all attention to this situation. It’s special moment. It’s nice to see when the people understand what you want to do. They take a step back, and we take what I think was a good picture. My friends were at the bar, and they sent it to me, the picture of how I walk and how many people were behind me.
“It was incredible.”
More on the Capitals: