Ovie of­fers sober sec­ond thoughts on Caps’ ti­tle

Wash­ing­ton star bask­ing in lime­light af­ter his epic cel­e­bra­tion, writes Ro­man Stubbs.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS -

Alex Ovechkin had al­ready spo­ken for nearly 15 min­utes Wed­nes­day when a Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals me­dia re­la­tions of­fi­cial shouted to re­porters that they had time for only two more ques­tions with the freshly minted Stan­ley Cup cham­pion. Ovechkin, clean-shaven and clear-eyed af­ter a de­bauch­er­ous cel­e­bra­tion that spanned the pre­vi­ous five days, took the ques­tions calmly and qui­etly. Then he did some­thing stun­ning. He waved off the direc­tive to end the ses­sion.

“That’s it? I can talk more,” he said, be­fore open­ing up for nearly another 10 min­utes, un­able to sup­press the joy that he was feel­ing.

This wasn’t the Ovechkin who of­ten abruptly ended his me­dia scrums over the years or dur­ing the past two months as the Cap­i­tals trudged through the play­offs to­ward their first cham­pi­onship. On Wed­nes­day, as the new Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons re­turned to their prac­tice fa­cil­ity for the final time to take phys­i­cals and clear out lock­ers be­fore dis­pers­ing across the globe for sum­mer va­ca­tion, Ovechkin sim­ply didn’t want to stop talk­ing about his new re­al­ity.

“It’s crazy. I’m pretty sure it’s still go­ing to be go­ing for a week or two. But I still can’t be­lieve we won. I still can’t be­lieve we did it. We shared our hap­pi­ness, our emo­tions, our Stan­ley Cup with all of you guys. You know, all the fam­ily, all the fans. Ev­ery year when you come back here when you lose, you stand here with a bad face (and) not smil­ing. Even if you smile, it’s like, ‘OK, what­ever.’ But right now you just re­al­ize what we did. It’s some­thing spe­cial.”

This was a starkly dif­fer­ent break­down day from a year ago, when Ovechkin’s ca­reer ap­peared to be tee­ter­ing on the edge of a cliff. Af­ter pro­duc­ing one of the worst sta­tis­ti­cal sea­sons of his ca­reer in 2016-17, which in­cluded a sec­ond-round play­off exit for seem­ingly the umpteenth time, Cap­i­tals man­age­ment made it clear that Ovechkin needed to be­come slim­mer and quicker dur­ing the off-sea­son. He showed up two weeks early for train­ing camp, some­thing he had not done be­fore, and got to work.

A year later, at 32, the tone had changed dras­ti­cally. Ovechkin is at the idyl­lic place in his ca­reer. He looked more nim­ble and pow­er­ful through­out the sea­son. His sta­tis­tics re­cov­ered from the pre­vi­ous sea­son’s lows and dur­ing Wash­ing­ton’s Stan­ley Cup run, he un­der­scored that resur­gence by scor­ing 15 play­off goals, a fran­chise record.

It was the per­fect segue into a life-chang­ing sum­mer. He and his wife ex­pect the birth of their first child in Au­gust. He will cel­e­brate his 1,000-games-played mile­stone with a trip to Barcelona to watch Lionel Messi, a gift from his team­mates. And he will bring the Stan­ley Cup to Rus­sia, where he plans to stay for a month. Wash­ing­ton’s front of­fice will not need to chal­lenge him like it did last sum­mer.

“What are we go­ing to tell him? Work on your keg stands?” Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Brian Maclel­lan said Wed­nes­day.

“He’s def­i­nitely en­joyed him­self, that’s for sure. He likes to have fun. He’s not scared of a scene or any­thing like that,” said Wash­ing­ton goalie Braden Holtby, who af­ter watch­ing Ovechkin do a keg stand out of the Stan­ley Cup dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tion June 9 joined his cap­tain for a swim in a foun­tain at the Ge­orge­town Wa­ter­front in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “He’s earned it like our whole group has and you cel­e­brate which­ever way is true to your­self and he’s be­ing true to him­self. It’s good.”

The cel­e­bra­tion will at some point shift to Moscow, where Ovechkin plans to bring the Stan­ley Cup soon while the coun­try hosts the World Cup. The plan­ning is only in its early stages, but Ovechkin was al­ready mulling the pos­si­bil­i­ties Wed­nes­day. He wants to in­clude all of his friends and fam­ily. He wants his grand­mother to kiss it. He wants the kids at the academy he played at as a young­ster, Dy­namo Moscow, to see it. He might even in­clude Messi.

“I will see him in the sum­mer when I go back to Barcelona to see the game. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it’s go­ing to be, but it’s go­ing to be some­thing spe­cial,” Ovechkin said. “It’s go­ing to be some­thing I’m go­ing to share with all the peo­ple, all my fam­ily and friends.”

He’s earned it like our whole group has and you cel­e­brate which­ever way is true to your­self and he’s be­ing true to him­self. It’s good.

Rus­sian celebri­ties from his home coun­try have al­ready been reach­ing out to him over the past few days in ad­mi­ra­tion of his shirt­less pushups in the foun­tain at the Ge­orge­town Wa­ter­front, he said, although he has yet to hear from Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. That “means a lot” if he does reach out, said Ovechkin, who also didn’t have any qualms with ques­tions about vis­it­ing the White House to cel­e­brate the ti­tle. He was sim­ply in too good of a mood Wed­nes­day. There were the litany of ques­tions he’s be­come so ac­cus­tomed to on break­down days over his ca­reer.

Of course he will cam­paign for Barry Trotz to re­turn as a coach. Of course he doesn’t want to lose free agents. Of course he be­lieves the Cap­i­tals can re­peat next year, but only af­ter he re­turns from cel­e­brat­ing this first ti­tle.

“Of course you have dreams about it, but this is some­thing un­be­liev­able,” Ovechkin said. “Even to­day, when me and my wife were with the Cup, like, ‘Is it real or is it a dream?’ It’s real. We won.”

SCOTT TAETSCH/GETTY IMAGES

Cap­i­tals cap­tain Alex Ovechkin still won­ders if his team’s Stan­ley Cup ti­tle is a “dream” and is plan­ning his day with the Cup, which might in­clude a visit to soc­cer star Lionel Messi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.