MOSCOW — The full collection of the Alex Ovechkin museum spans roughly 5,000 miles with an ocean in between two main branches. The original exhibit, though, sits 90 minutes from downtown Moscow, past a guarded gate and up the stairs of the pool house.
First, have some tea while watching last night’s Washington Capitals game in the breakfast nook. Don’t mind the five German shepherd dogs; they’re friendly. Check out the tennis and basketball courts in the back yard, blanketed by snow in early February.
Welcome to the Ovechkin family country home, or “dacha” in Russian. The pool house is just a few steps from the back deck. As the stairs wind up, a banner of Ovechkin during his rookie season hangs along the wall. A few more steps and photos from Ovechkin’s stint with Dynamo Moscow are taped to the wood paneling.
Enter the loft, and start the tour. Ovechkin’s old Russian national team jerseys line the wall with matching photos. An Ulf Dahlen San Jose Sharks jersey, the first piece of NHL apparel Ovechkin’s father ever bought him, is also displayed. Old gloves and helmets sit atop the ceiling’s wood beams. Five tickets from the 2004 NHL draft, when Ovechkin was picked first overall by Washington, are tacked into the wall, next to the draft jersey Ovechkin was presented on stage.
“It feels like he just got to the NHL, but it’s been 13 years,” Ovechkin’s mother, Tatiana, muses. The matriarch of the family points out an Ovechkin statuette in the back of the room, a gift from Capitals owner Ted Leonsis during Ovechkin’s first season.
Every chapter of Ovechkin’s storied hockey career has been preserved so it can be appreciated. The dacha features memorabilia from the early years, when Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, was the one proudly displaying his son’s accomplishments. But Ovechkin has carefully maintained — and expanded — the collection himself, saving the stick from every milestone NHL goal he scores. The next one will be from the 600th tally of his career, and in what has become a tradition, Ovechkin will ask the players who record an assist on the goal to sign the stick before it’s displayed in the basement of his Northern Virginia home.
“It’s pretty cool for a guy like him who scores so many goals,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who has signed several Ovechkin sticks over the course of their 11 seasons playing together. “It shows how important everything is to him. Everything’s got a value.”
Ovechkin has the stick he used to score the 50th goal of his career, recorded in his rookie season — the first of seven 50-goal campaigns. He kept the stick from when he scored his 61st goal of the 2007-08 campaign because that marked a single-season franchise record. When Ovechkin scored his 50th goal the next year, he placed the stick down on the ice and fanned his gloves over it, the famous “hot stick” celebration. He kept that one, too. Most recently, Ovechkin saved his stick from Washington’s game against the Minnesota Wild last month because he recorded the 1,100th point of his career that night.
Ovechkin isn’t the only NHLer who has kept mementos from his career, but his collection has been described as on the “extreme” side. The saved sticks are behind glass in what Ovechkin calls his gym “because there’s some heavy stuff there.” It’s a sort of attraction for those who visit his house in McLean.
“His basement is definitely a shrine,” forward Tom Wilson said.
It feels as if he’s already immortalized at the family dacha in the Moscow suburbs. In the summers, he spends most weekends here. A banner with a close-up photo of his face lines the back fence of the basketball court, and a second one runs along the tennis court. There’s a painting in the living room depicting Ovechkin riding a horse while playing the mandolin. Old posters and cardboard cutouts of him advertising everything from a brand of hockey equipment to a Russian bank are scattered throughout the sprawling property. Of the five German shepherds, his mother points out the one named “Ovi.”
“Look how strong Ovi is,” she says, referring to the dog.
Ovechkin calls his mother every day, and Tatiana and Mikhail stream every game in their breakfast nook. “It’s like we’re in Washington,” she says. A framed Russian magazine article with a photo of a dapper Ovechkin is beside the TV. An Ovechkin Russian nesting doll sits atop a nearby shelf. At his parents’ apartment in Moscow, there are three more glass cases with plaques, photos and signed hats, everything from medals dating back 16 years to a D.C. Sportsman of the Year award from 2008 to the puck from his first NHL goal. It all has a place, and nothing is too insignificant to be discarded.
“There’s more. But Sasha has to display it for himself,” Tatiana says, referring to her son by the affectionate Russian diminutive for Alexander.
That exhibit resides back in his McLean basement, another elaborate display that should soon grow larger still.
“He obviously takes a lot of pride in it, but it’s almost like a museum — an Ovechkin museum in his basement,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. There’s one thing where it’s like a life-size mannequin dressed up in his gear.”
That would be everything Ovechkin was wearing when he scored the 500th goal of his career two years ago. The 600th one, just two pucks away now entering Tuesday night’s late game at the Anaheim Ducks, will mark his 42nd goal of the season. At age 32, he once again leads the NHL in goals and could record the eighth 50-goal campaign of his career. Just four players in NHL history have scored at least 50 goals at 32 or older; Jaromir Jagr was the last to do so during the 2005-06 season. If there was any doubt Ovechkin is shooting for that mark, his reaction to scoring his 40th goal of the year Saturday night cleared that up. “Forty is nice,” he said, “but 50 is better.”
Coming off a down season by his standards — 33 goals in 82 games last year — there was some concern age had finally caught up to Ovechkin. As salary cap constraints forced the Capitals to part with two top forwards last summer and rely on less experienced and less expensive players, Ovechkin has carried the load, scoring 20 percent of Washington’s goals this season. He’s on his best points-per-game pace (1.11) in five years, even as he’s poised to play in his 1,000th game April 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I feel like we’ve already seen four or five milestones this year,” center Jay Beagle said. “I don’t even know what they are, but he just keeps collecting pucks.”
“I think this is the quickest season of my life, you know?” Ovechkin said. “Time moves fast.”
His memorabilia collection is a reminder of that — a combination of his personal history, hockey history and the intersection. When Ovechkin was a 20-year-old rookie, the Penguins’ equipment manager sought him out after a Capitals practice in Piney Orchard, Md. He had a gift for Ovechkin: a signed Mario Lemieux stick. It was the first one he had ever received from another player, so Ovechkin then started asking other stars for their sticks, typically offering one of his in exchange. He has roughly 100 sticks from other players now, including Pittsburgh centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. Lemieux’s is still his favorite.
Even as his basement has started to rival Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame, Ovechkin has acquired other memorabilia. When Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig retired, Ovechkin asked for his glove as a way to remember a dear teammate. After Braden Holtby won the Vezina Trophy two years ago as the league’s top netminder, Ovechkin asked for Holtby’s goalie pads from that season. At his parents’ apartment in Moscow, there’s a Marty Turco mask from the 2007 All-Star Game in Dallas that Ovechkin had other players there sign for him.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ovechkin said. “It’s something when I’m going to be retired that I’m going to remember.”
Ovechkin doesn’t need reminding of what’s still missing from his collection. A first Stanley Cup would complete it, a perfect complement to the scores of individual accomplishments and the sticks of other stars who have already celebrated a championship. But the Alex Ovechkin museum is far from a finished product. “I think this is for my future generation, you know? Kids, grandkids,” Ovechkin said. “They will see it, and I think it’s a proud moment.”