12/29/2008 Slava Malamud’s Entire Ovechkin Interview
Alexander Ovechkin: “Code Word: Glass”
In the past year Alex Ovechkin became the top goal scorer and points leader in the NHL, and as result was recognized as the most valuable player of the league for the 2007/2008 season. Could you imagine our Christmas edition without an interview with him? Of course not! So our own correspondent for SE in North America met up with the well known hockey player.
“Again With The Fast Driving”
The open parking deck at the Washington Capitals training complex in Arlington reverberates with the roar of a car engine. It is a healthy roar, indicating that a car is coming up the ramp at a speed that is significantly higher than what is even theoretically allowed. It can only be Him– Alexander the Great in his white ride. Who else would go so rushing in such a tight parking lot, as if speeding into the opponent’s zone two-on-one?
The fantastic car pulled up beside me, throwing off a wet dusting of raindrops. From the window, the familiar unshaven face appeared, and a hand came up in a victorious two-finger salute. “Hey, how’s it going? Just a sec, I’ll be right there.” Everything at a rush, full speed.
Basically this was an ordinary day for Alexander. Practice, a couple of interviews with the Washington press, a players union meeting, signing a mountain of posters, pucks and jerseys, a demonstration class with some Washington schoolkids, and then one more large interview– with SE (this, it goes without saying, is the most import item on the agenda). Hmmmm– if you had to live your life at this speed, then how would you drive?
“Yeah, this is a normal routine” Alexander Ovechkin says later, when we are sitting with him inside the training complex, in a room with a ping-pong table and some hockey paraphernalia. “And nothing really upsets me here in America. I spend most of my time with the other Russian guys. Well, drivers here can get on your nerves. You could write a book about it!”
“Oh yes! They are Drivers with a capital D here! In Russia they would simply get shot. Let’s say you are driving on an empty two-lane road. Any fool knows the left lane is the fast one! But here they don’t get it at all. Two of them will get next to each other and just keep going like that; nobody in front of them and a traffic jam behind. Why, why would you drive slowly in the left lane? Who knows. They just do it.”
That clears up the situation with drivers. So what are the things that you like the most about living here? I ask with the joy of objectivity
“I have never been lied to here. Take my relationship with the team, for example. Everything they promise me, they always do it. It never happens that they tell you something and then forget. I have never before seen such professional relationship anywhere.”
“Ovechkin and Kids”
I believe it is worth clarifying exactly what the relationship is between Alexander and his club. The Washington Capitals serve Ovechkin much in the same way that the Third Division of the Personal Imperial Consulary served His Majesty– with trust and honesty, keeping him from harm, glorifying his name and deeds, neither allowing his image to be tarnished nor allowing any deviation from protocol. All to the advantage of the sovereign and to the joy of the masses. The Capitals club gives Alexander absolutely everything he needs in order to love his work and do it with glee. The Capitals also fan the flame of Ovechkin as much as possible, turning him into a figure on a national scale. Washington not only pays Alexander money, but also helps him to earn some on the side, using his name and his own well-advertised charm.
In exchange for this, Alexander Ovechkin has not only made Washington into a great hockey team but also an attractive commodity, much to the delight of the capital city public. Take, for instance, his actions the day of this interview. Kids from the Fort DuPont children’s hockey school, located in the center of Washington, have been brought out onto the Capital’s ice rink. Unlike a majority of the rest of the residential areas of the city, Fort DuPont is a middle class neighborhood, with an African-American majority population. There is a lot of poverty all around, and the crime rate is off the scale. For kids from places like this, sport is often the best way to escape from the streets. God only knows what wind it was that blew in a hockey school to a neighborhood like this, but a coach’s job is to do great things. And here they have decided to organize a meeting between the boys and Ovechkin himself! Naturally, the Capitals jumped at the chance. You can’t buy PR like that for any money.
As soon as he gets on the ice, Alex is wearing a huge, sincere smile on his face. He just finished up a notable practice session (injured, but he bears it in silence, like a true guerrilla warrior), sat through a players union meeting, and now he certainly would like more than anything to just lie on a couch and rest. But none of the boys, looking up at him like he was the second coming, could have the slightest occasion to doubt that Alexander received the greatest pleasure from meeting with them. And, by the way, he most assuredly did.
Having roamed around on the ice, Ovechkin and his young hosts started shooting at the net and working in duos. Here is Ovechkin and a young, wobbly-legged boy of about seven years old coming up together to the goalkeeper. The young guy has the puck, and it seems like he is supposed to make a pass to Alexander. At that moment I thought “sometime later this kid is going to be grown and be able to say to his kids “I once made an assist with Ovechkin”
Aha! Now! Time for the seven year old to make the pass! And he himself runs up to the goalie, while the professional at his side shakes his head.
“Kovalchuk and the Pendent”
The room has been empty for quite a while. Players have gone home. He didn’t have to entertain kids or the Russian press today. Alexander is tired and hungry. He got a piece of bagel and a bottle of water from somewhere. Sitting down next to the ping-pong table (“Backstrom and I play each other all the time “), he lifts up his feet and plops them, American style, in the chair next to him.
This past year has been the best in your career. Looking back now at everything that has happened, what moment burns the brightest in your memory?
“The year was great, of course. We made it to the play-offs, we won the World Championship, I won a lot of individual awards. But the main moment was when Kovalchuk made the game winning goal against the Canadians. I have yet to experience any greater moment in my sporting career. I still can’t imagine anything better. In Canada, in overtime, in the finals, after so many years without winning gold– and I was there on the ice! And I also had a hand in four of the five goals in that game!
By the way, what kind of relationship do you have with Ilya?(Kovalchuk–TuvanHillbilly)
“The most friendly.”
You and him have very different destinies. Russian fans would forgive you, for instance, for anything. But they always want to blame him for everything under the sun.
“Everybody has their problems. But I know Ilya and his character. If things are going bad for him, he would never take it out on other people. He would never begin to hurt anyone else. In the Championship in Quebec, Ilya didn’t shoot for a long time, but always tried to do everything possible for the team to win. He protected everyone, he was our toughguy, he fought, and he threw himself in front of the puck. And sometimes fans don’t pay attention to these things. They just need goals. During the course of the championship they want to get rid of him, but when he makes two goals and wins the game, well now here is your hero. “We knew it all along, we believed…” This is just how it is.”
Does it mean that there is a higher justice when Kovalchuk shoots in the game winning goal, and not you, for instance?
“It is not so much justice as it is the sign of a master– to score at the most necessary moment.”
So, Kovalchuk’s goal is your high point. So what’s the story of the “lucky loonie”, the silver dollar that the Canadians buried for good luck, which you dug out?
“This was an agreement we had with Nikula (Russian National defenseman Ilya Nikulin, Ovechkin’s former partner at Dynamo). If we win, we were going to dig this out and split it in two. The last time I was in Moscow, I went to a Dynamo-Ak Bars game and saw Nikulin and asked him “How’s the loonie, have you split it yet”? He told me that he had split it and had already made it into a pendent. He promised to give it to me this summer.”
“Malkin and the Fire”
What is the question from the media that you are most tired of?
“It used to be “Compare yourself with Crosby.” Now it’s “Compare yourself with Malkin.” Actually, I have to do two or three interviews every day and almost always they ask me the same things. I could even write all the standard questions on a piece of paper and just hand it out to the journalists.”
Staying with the subject, could you talk about your relationship with Malkin? There are rumors of all but a war between you two.
“No, there is no war and everything that was between us is in the past. I just think that he was wrong in acting like he did. He said things that shouldn’t have been said. I won’t go into it in detail.”
Do you mean your confrontation with his agent Ushakov? Malkin’s words in the media that the fight indeed took place?
“I won’t go further into it. He shouldn’t have acted like he did.”
So you two haven’t discussed this?
“No, we haven’t talked at all.”
And what about you going after him sometimes on the ice? Is this a consequence of your relationship cooling off?
“I go after everyone like that. In the game against Boston I even went after Chara.”
But your rivalry with Malkin is obvious. I remember, for example, a game last year when you flew into him. And you, by the way, ended up on the ice.
“And then I struck Green harder than Malkin. If Green had then gone away, I think the hit would have been even harder.”
Your next game against Pittsburgh is January 14. Can we expect something?
“Everything is possible, but you don’t need to expect anything.”
If you and Malkin ever got into a fight on the ice – who would win?
“Whoever landed the first punch. But fighting is not my calling. And really, I don’t see any rivalry between myself and Malkin. Or between myself and Crosby. And now they are adding Semin to our threesome too. There is nothing of that sort: we just play, get our points, someone is in front, someone is second… Of course, a headline like “Ovechkin Versus Malkin” catches the eye, but I don’t see any reason to pour gasoline onto the fire.”
Do you not wish to indulge the readers with a New Year’s tale from the life of Alex Ovechkin?
“You mean something funny? Well… So, we are arriving in Turin for the Olympics… No, let’s not do this one. Actually, it’s very hard to find something that is fit to print in a newspaper.”
You lead an interesting life.
“To tell the truth, what they write about me is much more interesting than how I live. For example, the Russian press has made me into such a lady’s man. I just have to arrive in Moscow, go out to a party and sit down next to somebody at the same table, and they will immediately write that Ovechkin has a new romance. So, I try not to go with anyone or only to go with (male) friends. So they will wind up thinking that I am… All right, that’s enough about that.”
Is this why you offended Miss Virginia after one of the home games, refusing to have a picture taken with her?
“Ah, it’s nothing. I didn’t even see her. I just heard someone saying something to me about a Miss Virginia, so I said that our girls are better and left.”
And she is a hockey player, by the way. A goalkeeper.
“Yeah? Well okay then. And here is something else they have written about me– they wrote that I got drunk and trashed a hotel room. Or even the entire Russian “Friends of the Olympics” house.”
So it really wasn’t the entire house?
“Only half. No, seriously, it is terribly upsetting for me to read this stuff. I was only there for four days, and every one of them was filled up with activities, meetings, and going to the competitions. When on earth would I ever have enough time to go on a tear and trash the Russian House? I told the people who printed that to either show proof of it or print a retraction. After a month they wrote that it was all a mistake.”
What did you think of Beijing?
“Hah, I just remembered how on the last day my manager Kostya Selinevich, Alik Zakaryan, the agent Plyushchenko and I went shopping in the center of Beijing. It was basically one huge circus. You’d go and ask “Do you have Louis Vuitton” or “Dolce&Gabbana” or whatever. They would then lead you somewhere and bring out whatever you wanted. Bags, watches, everything- piles of stuff. Of course all of this stuff was Made In China. Of course we weren’t going to buy any of this stuff. We weren’t going to disgrace ourselves with some knock-offs, but it was funny–bargaining with the Chinese was cool. You could bring the price down from one hundred dollars to ten dollars.”
“Here is the suitcase I myself bought while I was over there. I had to, since I brought so many souvenirs back with me. I also had an adventure while I was leaving.”
In what way?
“They left me at the airport by myself. There had been a group of us there, Julia Nachalova and someone else from a group of stars who was visiting. Everyone was supposed to get on a bus and go to the airport. Somebody left to go to another hotel complex to pay for a room, (one of which I ostensibly trashed), so Kostya Selinevich and I went to get our things. We come out, and nobody is there. Kostya says “follow them”. I get to the airport, and nobody is there, not Nachalova, not the delegation, nobody but one Chinese guy. My cell phone didn’t work in China, and I wasn’t able to converse with the Chinese. They basically didn’t understand any normal languages. So I went into the shops to get some more souvenirs and stop my worrying.”
“Going on a Recon Mission With Semin”
Is there anything you miss the most?
“The pace of life in Moscow. When I come there, I don’t even have the time to relax. I would get home at four in the morning, sleep for four hours and – back in the saddle again. Hanging out, partying… What do you expect? If a guy toils without rest for nine months, what should he do? Come home and sit in front of the TV with a bottle of water and potato chips and watch the news?”
And do you do that here?
“No, but of course you can also find some entertainment here. You just have less time. Especially during the season there isn’t any time for partying. My main pleasure is to sleep well. A non-game day for me basically looks like this: get back from practice, sleep, wake up at six in the evening, go out to a restaurant to have supper, come back, watch a movie, and then go back to sleep. Everything is very quiet. Sometimes I’ll go to the movies with Backstrom. I might go to a Russian restaurant and hang out with some of the guys. Basically I’m not bored.”
Is Backstrom your best friend on the team?
“No, my closest friend is Semin.”
At first sight he doesn’t seem like you at all.
“Only outsiders think that, those who don’t know him well. Sema is a really sociable guy, always cheerful, and he always seems to have some adventures.”
Adventures? Do tell…
“What are you thinking? I mean in a good way!”
“I mean it is never boring with him around. He is always doing something. Telling jokes, horsing around. You want some examples? I can’t tell that to the press!”
Well how can that be: ”in a good way” but yet “I can’t tell the press”?
“Well that is how it is. I just want to say that the fact of the matter is that nobody knows the side of Semin that I know. And those close to him don’t even know him that well. This is the type of guy you could go out on a recon mission with.”
Practical jokes, especially on road trips, is commonplace in the NHL. What can you reveal to us from the Semin-Ovechkin repertoire?
“I will tell you one word– “(the) glass”. Semin will know what I am talking about. This happened in Minnesota. We came to an agreement: if anybody asks us about our road-trip hijinx, we will answer “(the) glass”.”
Alexander, an exclusive interview does not mean exclusive for just one reader!
“Well you can guess now what I might do with a glass.”
“Brashear Intends to go to Moscow”
Of all the players you have met on the ice, which one is the most unpleasant?
“Probably (the ex-Penguin, now a Senator) Jarkko Ruutu. He is the dirtiest player and does everything in an underhanded way. Just a rat running around…”
What about professional agitators, players like Shane Avery?
“They only irritate those who are easily irritated. Normal people don’t pay any attention to people like that. Besides, I simply don’t understand most of what they say to me.”
I have heard the team’s fighter Donald Brashear talking to you guys in Russian. Are you teaching him?
“He does it himself, with a translator in his cell phone. He is going to come to Moscow this summer, so he is getting ready. As a matter of fact, he mostly hangs out with us, the Russians.”
There are four of you Russian guys – two youngsters and two old ones. How do you get along?
“We try to get (the old guys) into the active lifestyle. Viktor (Kozlov) is our designated “target.” We always try to get at him. But sometimes Fedorov gets it from us too. Actually, they try to always agree with us and never argue.”
It is easy to believe that Ovechkin owns Washington. All you need is just one trip to the Verizon Center to see what happens to the people when the Russian makes a goal, and the replay board shows an animation of a scruffy faced cyborg with the name “the Russian machine”. It is not quite so easy to believe that Ovechkin has Fedorov at his beck and call (or, in any case, in his concession). But who knows? This Ovechkin is such a guy that agreeing with him is, above all else, easy and pleasant.
So therefore lets agree with Ovechkin when he wishes us luck and success in the New Year. Let us agree and accept it. After all, this is a guy who has a sufficient amount of both the former and the latter.