Thanks again to our friend Dmitry Chesnokov for sending in this translation of Alex Ovechkin’s Saturday interview with Sovetsky Sport.
As a result of a poll conducted by “Sport” [Russia’s public sports channel] and Sovetsky Sport [Russia’s largest newspaper], Washington Capitals and Russian national team forward Alexander Ovechkin was named Athlete of the Month in April. Alex received 51.4% of the vote, overtaking Evgeni Malkin who received 48.6%. This interview Alexander Ovechkin gave to Pavel Lysenkov and Vitaly Slavin of Sovetsky Sport in Hotel Concorde two hours after the end of the Russia-Sweden game [3:2], where Alex the Great scored the game winner.
I WOULD START BEATING THE SWEDE TOO
Honestly, we did not expect Ovechkin to give a candid interview. Right after the game Ovechkin entered the mixed-zone [you all know that access to players in the NHL is way better than the IIHF regulations], but he looked so tired that he only gave interviews to TV crews. When Ovechkin saw dozens of print media reporters, he sighed and went back to the locker room. Such incidents are very rare for Ovechkin, who always finds time to talk to the media.
What saved us at Sovetsky Sport was that a day before Alex promised to give us an interview. And he always keeps his word.
Are you getting ready to go out for dinner? Let us wait for you at the hotel.
“No, let me wait for you,” Ovechkin replied. “How much time do you need? Twenty minutes? Let’s sit down right here then, on this couch, and talk.”
Congratulations on becoming Athlete of the Month!
“Thank you, fans. But I would give it to Evgeni Malkin. He is still in the playoffs carrying Pittsburgh on his back. In my spare time I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I am happy about the way Malkin is playing. What a goal he scored against Philadelphia! He was hit, but still made it and slapped one behind Biron … I stand by my prediction that the Penguins will win the Cup this year.”
And what will you say about the game against Sweden?
“That the Swedes played very dirty in the first period and did not give us a chance to play our game. They started hitting us right away. As a result, we lost Morozov due to injury, and then Kovalchuk for fighting. Kovy was absolutely right when he stood up for his captain. If I were him, I would also show my fists to the Swede.
“I was very surprised that Ilya got a game penalty. Why? Kovalchuk didn’t even drop his gloves. If he did drop his gloves, only bits and pieces would be left of the Swede … I also think that Sweden intentionally went for this exchange – sacrificed this [Doug] Murray to injure our captain and rid us of our best scorer.”
Did you miss Morozov on the ice?
“We were left with only 6 wingers instead of 8. All the other guys had to work more. But Nabokov played very well and saved us.”
Was it hard for you?
“For me personally, no. I played every other shift. Same way I play in Washington.”
Do you think Murray did it on purpose?
“I am absolutely sure. The puck was nowhere near. Morozov was turning trying to get back into his own zone, but was hit.”
After that you started playing very physical …
“I started playing very physical. And I didn’t care whether I get a game misconduct penalty or 2+10. I was very angry that the Swedes cowardly rid us of two players.”
But if you had got a game misconduct, our team would have been without our third leader!
“I didn’t think about it at the time. My mind was fixed on hitting someone and splashing them across the boards.”
Did Bykov calm you down during the intermission?
“Not only him, but Danny Markov who told me: “We have to beat the Swedes. No one needs this two minute penalty exchange.” Then everyone calmed down and got back to their game.”
Did Sweden with a cold head provoke Team Russia to act recklessly?
“Yes, in the first period they achieved this goal. It was our fault too. We had to play simple, for example during power play. We had to score, but it was a chaos after Morozov got injured. Emotions took over us.”
Did you see Alexei [Morozov]?
“He said he was alright. There was headache and pain in his chest … Although how could he be alright when he was spitting blood in the locker room?”
It seemed that Team Russia was not prepared for such aggressive game from the Swedes.
“We were prepared. But the Swedes and the Czechs are always like this … pests. Do you know what I mean? Yes, we were expecting a more skilled game from Sweden because they have great players. But the opponent started hitting us with sticks, and do God knows what.”
Do you remember your game winning goal that you scored with six seconds remaining in the third period?
“Six seconds? I didn’t even notice that. I was trying to shoot on goal, because Sema (Alexander Semin) passed to me quite hard. If the pass was ordinary, I would shoot a one timer. But I had to skate towards the goal trying to control the puck. I shot, it ricocheted off Lundqvist’s pad, and the puck went up … “
And what were you thinking?
“I didn’t even see it flying. There were a lot of people in front of the crease. If I had seen the puck, I would have tried to hit it in the air. Actually, I thought the puck had landed behind the goal. And only then did I realize it was a goal. I raised my hands, and in the next second Sema [Semin] was jumping on me with excitement.”
What are your relations like with Lundqvist?
“We’re not friends … On the ice? I scored two goals against him. Not the most difficult ones, but very important.”
Nabokov and Lundqvist are finalists for the Vezina Trophy this year.
“I would give the trophy to Zhenya [Nabokov]. Lundqvist was good [today], but Nabokov won us the game.”
Let’s get back to the topic of “exchanges.” Has it ever happened in your career before? We remember the final of World Juniors when one of the Canadian players injured your shoulder, and Team Russia lost easily.
“This example is not very good. That time I was hit cleanly but was not prepared for it. It was my fault. Now I play different and don’t get lost in the physical game.”
What moments in today’s game were key?
“When Nabokov did not let in a goal when we were 3 against 5, when he made a save after one on one … “
We could play Sweden in the quarter final. Will there be some special motivation?
“We will motivate ourselves for the quarterfinal. We are not going to plan revenge and kill someone. Victory is our main priority, and not to injure the opponent.”
We saw two fans holding a sign “Ovechkin for President.”
“Interesting, what did they mean by that?”
One of two: either the Washington Capitals win the President Trophy as the best team in the NHL, or Ovechkin will one day become the president of the United States.”
“I definitely don’t need the second. I am Russian.”
We spoke to some Quebec City residents, and they say that they support Team Russia [They love Radulov there.]. Do you feel as if you’re playing at home?
“Absolutely not. We feel like we’re playing in Canada.”
It is interesting that after the game against Belarus, Afinogenov’s goal was given to you. Why did this happen?
“I have no idea. Here’s what happened: I shot the puck, Max [Afinogenov] touched the puck and it ricocheted into the net. It was obvious that Afinogenoc scored that goal. When I found out about the news from papers the next morning, I immediately went to Max and said: “I don’t know what’s going on. We are supposed to be in Canada, home of hockey. And there are such mistakes. [The decision was eventually overturned again, and the IIHF gave the goal back to Afinogenov.]
“And here is another interesting situation. Mozyakin was scratched for the game against Sweden, but in the official statistics he is listed as having played 10 minutes. Very funny. Did he get all this ice time while sitting on the bench?”
You were yelling at the referee for giving penalty to Zinoviev.
“It was amazing, because a Swedish player hit our defender after the whistle provoking him. Zinoviev approached him and didn’t do anything simply pushing [the Swedish player] away with his stick. It is very common. But somehow he went to the penalty box and not the Swede.
“To be honest with you, I don’t understand sometimes what’s going on at this World Championship.”
Do you want to say that last year in Moscow the tournament was organized better?
“That’s not the point. The refs are the same. They make the same mistakes and don’t call when they’re supposed to. I think that right now there is absolute bias [provocation] against Team Russia.”
Russian head coach Bykov thinks that this situation should be addressed and handled by our IIHF representatives. Alexander Steblin, for example.
“I don’t know about Steblin. But I am telling you what I see. If this continues, it will be very difficult for us. There are situations when refs are simply killing us.”
Maybe it’s because they want to see Canada win gold, and Russia is the main challenger?
“When the Worlds were in Moscow last year, not one ref was trying to “drown” Canada. And here we see every attempt to leave Russia shorthanded.”
For example, in the game against Belarus, Fedorov got hot in the face with a stick. The ref was quiet.
“If we combine all questionable situations against our team in this tournament, we will write a book.”
Do we have a chance to win this tournament with such officiating?
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But right now I see that the refs can do a better job. No one is asking to pull Russia by their ears.”
What would you like to tell your fans?
“Thank you so much for voting for me as the Best Athlete in April … But I read our newspapers on the Internet and see the comments left by readers. After every game there are comments about Team Russia such as: we played bad, no one is scoring, someone made a mistake in defense … It sounds as if we’re not a team but a pillow on the couch. Guys, relax! We are playing for our country and are doing everything possible to win! We want to see good comments and feel your support. Notice the positive too! We have not lost a game yet. And if we beat an outsider 10:0, it won’t mean we’re Worlds Champions. Once again, let’s take it easy. Let’s cheer on Russia all together! We are playing for you!” – Ovechkin concluded his speech.
After that he left an autograph and wrote: “For Mor and Kovy!” No explanation is needed who Ovechkin dedicated his game winner to. [Morozov and Kovalchuk]