On Thursday, Washington Capitals beat reporter, Mike Vogel, debuted a new podcast called “Break the Ice”. The 45-minute episode (available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Soundcloud) features guests within the Capitals organization, which include alumni, in a personal, in-depth interview. Captain Alex Ovechkin sat down with Vogel in the premiere episode focusing on his early career in Washington.
The episode opens with the discussion of kids. Back on the 2005 team, not many of those guys had children. With nearly half of the current roster as fathers or soon-to-be dads, Ovechkin commented it’s “different”, but also “a pretty special moment”. Sergei, Ovechkin’s son, watched his father in action on Monday when the Capitals hosted the Colorado Avalanche. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s son, Kirill, was also in attendance.
Ovechkin wants as many photos and videos taken to preserve the memories and accomplishments. He doesn’t know if Sergei will play hockey when he is older, but the captain’s goal is to make sure his son can look back on the Ovechkin Era, despite not remembering these moments now.
Time flies. “I still feel young,” The “Great 8” said, in reference to being the oldest player on the team at thirty-four years old. Ovechkin added that he doesn’t try to think about his age. He wants to do his best on and off the ice. He also noted the Capitals have a young and mature group, which he complimented as a key thing.
Ovechkin has played nearly 1,100 games in his fourteen-year career. Vogel asked how he feels after each game being thirty-four versus twenty-years-old. Ovechkin replied that he feels the same, but, of course, the exhaustion does come into play. The game has changed a lot over the years. The captain noted, “it’s all about the speed” and staying in shape, and not so much the technique. He doesn’t really have an opinion on the speed of games now and its changes.
Washington won the NHL Draft Lottery in April of 2004. That summer, the Capitals selected Ovechkin as the first pick in round one. Prior to the draft, the Russian forward played for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. He remembers the conversations between him, his agent, and a Russian scout. His scout didn’t know what was going to be happening, which made Ovechkin nervous. He added that he sat in the stands wondering if he or current Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin would be the number one pick.
Ovechkin concluded his answer by saying he was excited Washington took him. “It’s changed my life,” he said, along with his family’s. The 2004-05 NHL was on lockout to which Ovechkin played another year with Dynamo Moscow that helped him gain muscle and maturity.
Everyone knows about “the office.” Vogel asked Ovechkin if it came naturally from that left high slot. The captain admitted it was hard in the first few games because of turns and timing but was told to be patient and not worry about it. Luckily, those crazy one-timers work well, especially on the power play.
Ovechkin said he was “all in” for learning English and showing who he was as a person for his future with the Capitals. He praised the organization for helping him and showing him the culture. It was hard for him to take that major step, but Ovechkin stayed honest and determined.
His parents and brother came to the States when Ovechkin was drafted. He commented that it definitely helped to have them around during that life-changing moment. His mother and father did everything they could to give him the freedom to “just play hockey”. Ovechkin appreciates the support from his wife, Nastya, and also adds how lucky he is to have family all of the time.
In the summer of 2006, the NHL Awards Show in Vancouver featured Ovechkin and current Penguins captain Sidney Crosby up for the Calder Trophy. He knew Crosby would win so preparing a speech was never in mind. Ovechkin said he was shocked when he won the award for outstanding rookie.
Two days later was the NHL Draft. The Capitals would select center Nicklas Backstrom fourth overall in the first round. It was a “special moment” to call Backstrom’s name on stage. Ovechkin described the two of them as players who helped build and carry the team. He looked back on all of the moments they shared— ups and downs, good days and bad days, good nights and bad nights. He said that it doesn’t matter what happens; they have each other’s back. Ovechkin considered him and Backstrom “not the same” as guys who come and go.
Rumors spread during the final year of Ovechkin’s entry-level contract that he would sign with the Montreal Canadiens. Former general manager George McPhee and the Capitals organization signed the Russian left-winger to a thirteen-year contract. That long of a contract is something that you cannot find in the league these days, which holds a maximum of eight years. “It was not hard, but not easy,” Ovechkin commented. He faced a general manager at just twenty-one years old making a major decision. His parents gave advice to “go for it” and “do the best you can do”.
As of now, the big question Capitals fans wonder is Ovechkin’s future with Washington. Vogel asked him how much longer he wants or can play. He answered, “We’ll see.” Lots of conversations factor into that decision: general manager Brian MacLellan, owner Ted Leonsis, and Ovechkin’s family.
Ovechkin mentioned possibly finishing his career in Russia. He said that is still part of the plan, but he loves playing in the NHL and wants to stay as long as he [physically] can. If he is healthy then he will most likely stay; however, if he feels like his body cannot handle 82 games and the speed aspect of the league, that could be a different story. Ovechkin added that he doesn’t want to be the guy who plays a few games and sits out later. “Everything’s going to happen for a reason, right?” he said.
There is a different mentality since winning the Stanley Cup. The Capitals captain said it “feels great” and there is no pressure. He added with a laugh that people who said he would never win the Cup can “eat it”. Ovechkin also noted that the Cup means more to him than the other individual awards. He knows the team can bring Lord Stanley back to D.C. It’s not going to be easy, but they understand what it takes and have that experience and momentum.
By Della Young