For a sports fan, there are numerous reasons to get attracted to a particular player. Generally speaking, it helps if the player is one of the better ones on the team, but it’s not a requirement. As a rule, multiple factors go into determining a particular favorite, even when it comes to the team’s superstar.
For me, that was the way it was when Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals became a particular favorite of mine. In fact, he was tailor-made to be a favorite of mine for a variety of reasons. For most of my life, my favorite sport was baseball, but would follow hockey and basketball during the baseball season and attend several games for both of those sports each year. Besides being a sports fan, I was also a Star Trek fan and my favorite character was Pavel Chekov, the Russian navigator. Hence, I became fascinated with the country of Russia, as a result.
Upon graduation from college, I obtained a job as a government contractor and worked in the basement of the Pentagon. There, I met a government worker named Alexander, who was slightly older than me, who ended up becoming a de facto mentor of mine and a friendship was born. He eventually left the government and became a contractor himself. About 10 years later, I went to work at his company and he was my immediate boss. While my friend was of Scottish descent, he did enjoy music composed by Russians and every year would organize a group of friends to attend a concert where they’d perform “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky, plus he enjoyed music by Igor Stravinsky.
As time passed, I became more involved with the activities of my own children and spent less time following sports and attending sports events. But when the 2003 NHL draft took place, I paid special attention to the players the Washington Caps drafted, since that was the year my elder child, a daughter, graduated from high school. Eric Fehr, the Caps first round pick (and the only one of their draft class to make the NHL), was the symbol of my first child coming of age. But at that time, I also heard stories about an amazing player in Russia, who had just missed the age cutoff for the NHL draft by 2 days – Alexander Ovechkin. This player was supposed to be a generational player on the order of a Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. Ovechkin, being born on September 17, 1985, would not be eligible to be drafted until the 2004 draft. The mid-September birthday was noticeable to me, as my friend and mentor, Alexander, also had a mid-September birthday (September 11). Plus, the actor who played the role of Chekov, Walter Koenig, also had a mid-September birthday (September 14). Koenig himself was descended from Russians who had immigrated to America via Lithuania. So, I immediately noticed the similarities in birthdays between Ovechkin, Walter Koenig, and my old friend, Alexander, along with the fact he was born the same year as my first child.
As it turned out, the Caps were terrible during the 2003-2004 season, so they would be in the mix to draft Ovechkin and they ended up being the “lucky” team to win the lottery. So, it happened – a new potential superstar who reminded me a favorite TV character and a friend/mentor from the workplace was coming to my favorite hockey team.
The attachment only grew with time. There were the 2 goals in his first NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored over 50 goals his first season and won the Calder Trophy. The following year, another Russian, Alexander Semin, rejoined the team. I wondered if those two would be friends, but it turned out they already were friends. Semin, meanwhile, became my other main favorite, besides Ovi. During 2006-2007, I spent time tracking the heroics of both Ovechkin and Semin, even though the team was not very good. Then along came 2007-2008 – the year the team started off so badly, fired their coach on Thanksgiving Day and the drive to the playoffs, along with all the speculation on whether Ovi, who was coming into restricted free agency, would sign a new contract with the Caps. He did in February – for 13 years. The following year (with the kids nearly grown), I started going to games again – even getting myself a 6 game partial season plan and an additional 3 game plan on top of that. I then purchased a full season ticket plan for the following year and got to see the playoffs – against the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. I have remained a season ticket holder ever since and have gotten to view many of his heroics, in person. This year, he has achieved many milestones, including passing Sergei Fedorov for Most Goals Scored by a Russian and scoring his 400th goal. I expect there to be many more milestones before he’s done.
By Diane Doyle