Ovie at the Worlds
Extreme thanks to our friends Dmitri Chesnokov and Pavel Lysenkov for passing along this lengthy Sovetsky Sport interview with Alex Ovechkin.
Sovetsky Sport continues the tradition of “on the road” Q&A sessions with players at major hockey tournaments. Sunday night, right after the game against the Czech Republic, NHL’s highest scorer and simply a great guy Alex Ovechkin answered questions left for him by our readers at our website http://www.sovsport.ru.
The meeting was scheduled to take place at the Concord Hotel in Quebec where the Russian National team is housed. Pavel Lysenkov and Vitaly Slavin of SovSport brought a few magazines with them with Ovechkin on the covers.
“Wow!” Ovechkin said. “What am I doing on the cover?”
Do you remember who you gave these interviews to?
“No. I am trying to figure it out using the photos. Let’s see.” Ovechkin is flipping pages. “Oh, this one was taken during the first season with the Capitals. I even have the front tooth in place. All right, I will read it in my spare time.”
Well then let’s get to fans’ questions. User Hedgehog is asking: this was the first year you played in the NHL playoffs. Are these really such special incomparable to anything else games?
“Actually, yes. During the Stanley Cup playoffs every game is treated as if it’s the final battle. How can I explain it? Do you remember the Olympics in 2006 in Turin when we had a great game against Team Canada in the quarterfinals [2:0 – Ovechkin scored the game winner]? So with Washington I played seven such games against Philadelphia! When we needed either to win, or to die.”
Is it true that an NHL player is only paid during the regular season?
“Yes, we do not get paid for the playoffs. Not even bonuses.”
So why would you “die?”
“Everyone want to win the Stanley Cup. Believe me, these are not just empty words.”
User Fight: The game against Team Italy you played wearing CCCP jerseys. I, as an old fan, became so nostalgic. Do you remember who, during the Superseries-72, wore a Soviet jersey with number 8 on the back? Four options: Mikhailov, Maltsev, Starshinov, Tretiak.
“Let’s see. Tretiak is eliminated right away – he wore number 20. Maltsev [Ovechkin’s childhood idol] wore 10. Mikhailov … definitely not number 8. Starshinov? I think so.”
Absolutely! User Anabolic: how did you become so physically fit this season?
“And this comes from Anabolic? No, steroids had nothing to do with it.” Ovechkin is joking. “One of my best finds is that Kostya (my manager who also lives in Washington) introduced me to Dmitry Kapitonov: a former marathon runner who became a fitness trainer. He is a Professional with a capital “P.” He helped me a lot to improve my physical conditions that I felt great throughout the season.”
User Alwa: did the whole insurance [for the World Championship] ordeal affect your readiness for the Worlds? You couldn’t even practice on the ice.
“Yes, I missed six days. But I didn’t become rusty at all. Once again my preseason workout helped. I felt the puck right away, as if I never stopped training.
Uncomfortable question. Do you thingk when it comes to playing for the National Team that you’re in a slump that started last year in Moscow? Only one goal in two games.
“No one would have said this if I had scored six goals in two games. I had my chances, but it would hit the post or miss altogether. I am not worried about this. Let’s say I score 20 goals and we do not win a medal. Would anyone be happy?”
Have you spoken to Alexander Eremenko, who got injured in the game against the Czechs? [Russians lost two of their three goalies, until the Sharks crashed out of the NHL playoffs, and Nabokov agreed to come to Canada and play for the National Team.]
“Yes, he’s got something with his knee. Doctors can’t say anything certain at this point. He needs to do some x-rays.”
At the press conference Bykov [Russian coach] said that Michalek intentionally tried to injure our goalkeeper.
“I only say what happened on a replay. I won’t blame anyone. But the Czechs have always been known for being dirty. Although at war, all methods are good.”
Did the team understand that the game against the Czechs was a “concealed” quarterfinal? If we [Russia] get the first place in our group after the second round, then in the playoffs, most likely, we will play Switzerland or Belarus. It is much easier than playing the Czechs or the Swedes.
“We were motivated to play the Czechs regardless. They are some Italians, and certainly not the Chinese or the Japanese. The Czechs have won the Olympics, the Worlds a few times. The motivation was beyond serious.”
After injuries to goalkeepers will our team [Russia] play close to our own net?
“Not at all. We have a lot of experienced guys who know that being too nervous will lead to defeat.”
What if Biryukov [the only goalie Russia had left until Nabokov arrived] gets injured? Would you be willing to take his place if Bykov orders?
“Yes, of course. What else could I do?”
We look at you and can’t stop to wonder. You looked Italian in the NHL playoffs with long hair and a beard. But when you came to Quebec you got a haircut and a clean shave.
“Washington didn’t make it to the quarterfinals. And I didn’t want to carry with me to the Worlds the load of the past. And, just like in ancient times, I decided to cut my hair.”
User SSSR: are you ready to shave your head and sell your hair at an auction for the gold medal in Quebec?
“I think no one would buy my hair.” Ovechkin is smiling. “Actually, I have already been bold before. Back in 1996, when I was 11. And no, I won’t tell you why I did it. But I don’t want to do this experiment again.”
How many millions of your contract are you willing to give up for the gold at the Worlds?
“I don’t have them yet, those millions. The $124 million contract doesn’t kick in until next season.”
You don’t want to answer?
“I think that buying trophies and victories is bad. And boring. It is so much more interesting to earn it through hard work.”
User Ildars: I heard that Team Russia is now playing under pressure, and you will peak during the second week [of the Tournament]. It is interesting, is weightlifting included in the gym workouts?
“We train on the bike, working on accelerations. Some people work with weights. I don’t need it. I hurt my tailbone in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s why I can’t even sit down with a weight.”
User Anabolic also wants you to name three best NHL goaltenders, in you opinion.
“Luongo from Vancouver, Nabokov from San Jose, and Brodeur from New Jersey.”
So, who of the three will win the Vezina Trophy?
“I think that Nabokov will win. I see him play and can’t stop being amazed. And his stats are unbelievable. If Nabokov doesn’t win the Vezina Trophy, who should? By the way, when we are done talking, I am going back to my room to watch Dallas play San Jose. Actually, I watch all playoff games.”
And what’s your prediction?
“I am sure that Pittsburgh will win the Stanley Cup. They have to do it. Malkin is having an unbelievable season. Hossa has found chemistry with Crosby. They have a great goaltender in Fleury. Their defense is pretty even. Pittsburgh is that good, they don’t have challengers.”
I remember your fitness trainer Kapitonov telling me that all hockey players are bears [sleep a lot]. And that Ovechkin is the most typical example and can stay in bed an entire day.
“Dima lied a little bit. Entire day? That’s too much! But during the regular season I do sleep a lot. I wake up at 10 in the morning, go to practice. Then I have my mandatory sleep. And when I have a day off I can sleep until lunchtime.”
That’s where you get your energy… User Lyubanya: this summer will you and other Russian NHL players train in St. Petersburg again?
“I haven’t made such plans yet.”
Why do you come specifically to St. Petersburg?
“Because Kapitonov lives there. But if he lived in Vorkuta, for example, I doubt we’d fly there.”
User Max-vereya: the game against the Czechs was so stressful that my heart almost jumped out. Don’t make us so nervous! By the way, you owe us a hat-trick in the game against Denmark! Promise?
“During games like that one you shouldn’t take heart pills, but drink beer!” Ovechkin is laughing. “It would get you better. About the hat-trick, I will try of course. Within the boundaries of team play.”
User Kedrush: sometimes I have a feeling that you are too tense on the ice, as if you’re nervous. And then – an emotional explosion, like the one you had at the end of the regular season in the NHL. How do you explain it?
“I can’t! Sometimes you score absolutely crazy goals that if you try to purposely do it again, it will never happen. And then you have an emotional uplift. But sometimes you go one on one against a goalie. A great chance that you just waste and ask yourself: ‘Goodness, what has just happened?’”
I saw your game against Montreal in Washington. Your nose got broken, and it seemed that you got so mad that you started crushing the opponent, flying in the offensive zone. That’s the explosion.
“Is that what it looked like from the stand? It’s an illusion. I played like I normally do. I took up good position and I shot.”
Yes, right, and it was absolutely coincidental that you scored four goals … OK, let’s talk about tactics. Do you feel comfortable that in your power play unit Kovalchuk plays at the point and not you?
“That means that the team needs it that way. I have a different goal, like sometimes I do in Washington, I stay above the crease screening the goaltender.”
Did Bykov and Zakharkin [Bykov’s assistant] change from the last Worlds?
“What do you mean?”
We are talking about the approach they take with their players.
“It’s all the same. No changes.
Can you imagine that you will be in the same situation as Kovalev is now [Bykov does not like Kovalev for some reason, and refuses to ask him to join the National Team]? Let’s say you’re 35, you just had an amazing season. But the National Team coach says: “Sorry, Ovechkin, we are trying to make the squad younger. You’re not going to the Worlds.”
“Of course I can imagine this. Life is such a funny thing. By the way, if you see Kovalev, please say hello from Sasha Ovechkin.”
Funny! Just a day earlier one of us went to Montreal, and Kovalev asked to tell you the same thing.
“See how we think alike,” Ovechkin smiled.
And a minute later Ovechkin was writing a message to SovSport’s readers: “All Russian Fans! Good luck and much success! We are the best!” He left his autograph with a number 8 and a heart drawn on top of it.