Yesterday we told you that Alex Ovechkin would be fielding calls on SovSport's "Hotline." Thanks to Dmitry Chesnokov for passing along the following excerpt from the interview, which, not surprisingly, focuses heavily on what is on the minds of most Russian hockey fans - their nation's performance in the Super Series. Look for more of the interview in the days ahead.
By Pavel Lysenkov
Alex Ovechkin knows first hand what it’s like to play against Canadian junior team. In January of 2005, our [Russian] junior team, led by Alex [who was yet to be called the Great at that time], was beat in the final of the Junior World Championships by a score of 6-1. Today Alex Ovechkin hosted a "Hotline" set up by Sovetsky Sport to answer questions from fans and journalists. The main topic of the day was: How to get over this humiliation at the hands of Canada?
"To be honest with you, I have not seen one game of the Series," Alex says.
- Why? Does it not interest you?
"I honestly don’t have time. I practice every day. I am also trying to take care of things before I leave for North America later this week."
- But you are certainly aware of what’s going on in the Series. What is your reaction?
"When you get punched once it hurts. When it happens five times in a row, all your senses go numb."
- Not long ago you told Sovetsky Sport that our [Russian] team is a good match for Canada, and that luck will play a major part. But the bad luck cannot be blamed five times in a row.
"It is obvious that the Canadians are better than us right now."
- Maybe the main reason is the youth development?
"But we also have a youth development system. It’s just that the Canadians do it better, more professional. Every year they produce 10 to 15 starlets. And us? Last year only Cherepanov started to shine. I don’t know of anyone else."
- Is it true that Canadian players intentionally target our [Russian] leaders [to knock them out of a game, i.e. injure]? They injured your shoulder two years ago.
"They purposely accent [their efforts] on the lead player of the opposing team. It is not [cowardice], it is a strategy. You might say we should do the same. But who should we target? They have a dozen leaders on their team. You can’t do it to everyone. Besides, these are not our methods."
- Do we need this Series? We may lose 8-0, it will be a total embarrassment.
"We do, but for the "big guys." The ones playing at the Olympics, the Worlds. I am not so sure we’d get beat by the Canadians the same way, if we had Malkin, Radulov, Kovalchuk. As for the junior team, Cherepanov got "broken" and we were left without our leader. And Team Canada could call upon Jordan Staal and others, if necessary, maybe even Crosby. But it was decided to go without them. They [Canadians] thought they could beat us with their second team. And, as we are seeing now, they can."
- [phone lines were open for people to call in. Here is a question from a caller] Hello, Alex? This is Konstantin from Moscow. I have a sad question. Our boys [the junior team] are playing in the "Series of Grief." Do they deserve such a whipping? What advice would you give them?
"To forget this horror and to prepare for the next game. Although I understand that it won’t be easy. You are playing for Russia and you are being routed 5:0… Embarrassing, to say the least. But that just means that this is the current level of our junior hockey. I feel hurt for our guys."
- There is a term – "beaten boxer". Is it possible that our juniors will simply break after this humiliation?
"I don’t think so. The guys are young. Although I must tell you that after that 6:1 loss it took me over a week to get back to normal psychologically. It hurt so badly. That year in the semis we beat the tournament favorites – Team USA. We had gone through the entire tournament being very consistent, playing well. But we were still routed."
Journalists showed Alex a cover design for the next issue of the newspaper that read in all caps "Who needs these losers". Then they explained where the words had come from [One of the Canadian journalists said that when asked why no one wanted to talk to the Russian players]. Ovechkin scratched his beard, thought for a minute and then said:
"After this series Canadians will think very highly of themselves. But these are only junior teams playing. If people in Canada think that our hockey is in a deep hole, it’s their right [to do so]. Do they remember Turin? You know, they don’t. What makes them different from us is that they remember only their victories. And we, unfortunately, are fixated on our defeats."
The entire transcript of the Hotline will appear in one of the upcoming issues of Sovetsky Sport.