Ovechkin:"I Sit in the Back, That's Where the Beer Is"

I may have been gone for a while, dear readers, and it may have been a while since we've seen a long, interesting Russian-language translation, but the wait was worth it. Sovietsky Sport had Anna Nasekina, Russian five-time synchronized swimming world champion, cover the recent Montreal-Capitals game. This article has fantastic interviews with Vladislav Tretiak, Andrei Markov, Sergei Kostitsyn, Semyon Varlamov, and the best interview I think I've ever read with Alex Ovechkin. I needed a cigarette and a few minutes when I was done. Enjoy.

***

Just a week ago I had no interest in the draft, I thought a farm club was a gathering of cowboys, and had absolutely no idea who was the winner of the Stanley Cup last year. But then along came the commercial launch of the Synchronized Swimming Trophy in Montreal. Where Montreal and the Washington Capitals just happened to be playing...

OVECHKIN IS A CERTIFIED WIZARD

"In this city, even if WW III were to start, the first news you'd hear would still be the results of the next Canadiens game!" yelled my taxi driver.  He wasn't holding the steering wheel or looking at the road. Turning to look at me, he waved his hands and screamed over the loud cries of the radio announcer. "Oh, that Ovechkin guy! He's a certified wizard! What he can do on the ice!" Without slowing down, he stuck his head out the window and yells "But! But! ("goal, goal" in French). The cabby is sharing his joy with his ‘brother' in the next car. "He kept his promise!"

What promise was that?

"Before the game today, Ovechkin went up to the Canadiens goalie-- Ooooh I've never seen anyone "approach" someone like this guy-and said ‘today I'm going to score on you'. And he scored on him! What an actor!"

Will Washington make it to the playoffs this year? - I've already studied up on the hockey lingo.

"Alex can carry the team. But the Capitals have a problem goaltender. Theodore, he's a jack-in-the-box.  Today he can do everything, and tomorrow-nothing."

Varlamov's in goal now.

"He's still green. But I tell you, if you have a goalie, you have the Stanley Cup. Mademoiselle, are you going to the game at the Bell Center?

Yes, I'm going to root for Ovechkin.

"Are you Russian?"

You bet!

"A petite blonde with such a charming French accent" giggles the taxi driver. "Well that's the way it should be. The guy is really talented. He can do no wrong."    

TRETIAK: SASHA PLOWS RIGHT THROUGH

You get a wide view from a distance-from the media booth located on the 8th floor of the 20, 000 seat arena.  From here, all I can see is the number 8, yellow laces and the unbelievable energy of the Russian hero.  It seems like he is the only one on the ice. Ovechkin's stick doesn't even have a chance to touch the puck and the entire Bell Center erupts in raucous hooting. The Montreal fans are cautiously breaking in the Washington forward.

"I've never seen anyone play like that" commented Vladislav Tretiak, who had specially come to the game. "Even the most skilled players of the past always looked at their opponents. For Sasha, nobody else exists. He plows right through."

Did you come to the game for some specific reason?

"The Olympics are just around the corner. I have to look at the players, talk with them and see what kind of shape they are in."

Have you met with the injured Markov?

"Yes, and Andrey is in a good mood. But his recovery is the most important thing. I hope that we can count on him for Vancouver.

The meeting between the Canadiens and Washington turned out to be a nail biter.

"This is your first time at a hockey game and you are so lucky!" my Montreal counterpart Gennady Boguslavsky informs me. "If the score is tied after overtime, the game is decided on a shootout."

Shootout? (in Russian, "bullit"-TH) I heard that's the name of Andrey Markov's cat.

"Shootout, just like a penalty shot in soccer" said Gene.

I don't know about Markov's cat, but watching a shootout on ice can drain you of your emotions! It's a real test of your nervous system. The Capitals goaltender passed this test with flying colors. Varlamov got a shutout in the shootout. I jumped for joy, alone among the wounded Canadian fans. And then Gene grabbed me by the hand:

"Now we're going to the player's locker-room."

Where?!

"According to the NHL rules, every journalist accredited for the game can go into team's locker-room for post-game interviews."

I was paralyzed. Go into the team's locker-room after the game? Is this possible?

It was American cinema. Hockey players, freely walking around in their underwear among the correspondents, giving interviews almost in the shower. The managers clapped their hands and hurried them up:

"Guys, Guys, Hurry up, only five more minutes"

Cameras, microphones and tape recorders were bustling all around American players I didn't recognize. Responding to some questions, the players were able to get a sandwich from the refrigerator and, while chewing, sensibly explain the tactical and technical points of today's game.

Nevertheless, there was some tension in the air. Everyone was awaiting the entrance of one of the greatest hockey players on the planet.

Is Ovechkin always the last one? I asked an out-of-breath manager resting on a bench.

"Uh-huh. Everyone always waits for him. He's never in a hurry."

VARLAMOV: THERE IS AN EMPTINESS DURING THE SHOOTOUT

While I was waiting for Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov, with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, was modestly answering questions from the Russian journalists. I waited until the Washington goaltender got free. Semyon looked at me warily from under his brim.

"Bobsled?"

I was taken aback.

Actually, synchronized swimming.

"Sorry, I was mistaken."

Well now let's hear a little bit more about this bobsled!

"When I was at the Junior Olympics, there was a female bobsledder. She also lived in the Olympic village."

And what about with this female bobsledder?

"Oh, nothing. I was still just a kid- 15 years old." Smiled Varlamov. "And what brings you here?"

A competition in Montreal. That's enough about that. Tell me what does a goaltender feel during the shootout? Does your heart fall down in your boots?

"You won't believe it, but there is an absolute emptiness. Like in outer space. After so many games, there isn't any emotion."

And when you let one in?

"You're very ashamed. The puck is in the net, and you think to yourself "what an idiot!"

Tretiak was at the game today. Did that help you to concentrate?

"I didn't really think about him being in the stands. I just did my job."

You're the hero today! You saved the team.

"I'm glad that I didn't mess things up in front of the champion."

Varlamov takes off his cap and writes on it "To Anna from Varly". My head is spinning from joy.

"As a keepsake. When could I see you perform?"

In July at the European championships. Semyon, enough about me. What's your condition for Vancouver?

"Fighting form. We have to show everyone what we are capable of."

At that moment Ovechkin approaches the press. My colleagues turn into a great swarm of mosquitoes and descend on the Washington star. I'm not in any hurry. I know that my time will come.

MARKOV: "I RELINQUISHED BULLIT AND BROUGHT IN MARUSYA"

Squeezing Varly's cap, I headed to the Canadien's dressing room to talk with one of the best defensemen of the National Team, Andrei markov. Alas, Andrei had already left. But before I could get upset, Gena Boguslavsky shoved a telephone in my hand:

"Andrei's on the line"

Immediately forgetting that I'm doing an interview, and that I'm supposed to ask intelligent questions, and that this is Markov, who has a reputation as a taciturn hermit, and that we are total strangers, I grab the phone:

Hi, this is Anya. Hello!

"Well, this is Andrei."

Andrei, are you upset that the Canadiens lost?

"Of course, I root for my own team. Although it seemed to me that Washington lost the initiative in the second period. But then the course of the game changed again."

That battle was no joke. Especially the shootout. And is it true that you have a cat at home named Bullit?

"The cat is in good hands. I now have a dog, an Irish setter named Marusya."

That's an interesting twist-I laughed. Markov, it seemed, did not share my joy.

"So how did you do?"

I thought that I had an auditory hallucination, but the question was repeated.

"How did the competition go?" - this guy also wanted to play the role of journalist.

It wasn't the best outcome. - I came to my senses. I only won one of the three programs. But it was the most important one.

"These things happen. You can't have victory without defeat."

"Wow!" flashed through my head.

What did Vladislav Tretiak say to you today?

"He and I talked business."

You didn't talk about the Olympics?

"No, there were no discussions about that."

They say that before the Olympics the Russian NHL players try not to touch one another. Is that true?

"I will tell you laconically. There are no friends on the ice."

How is your leg? When do you plan on returning to the ice?

"I've already started skating. I hope that in two to three weeks I'll be able to play."

How were you injured?

"I can't even explain it myself. My leg got cut with a skate. It was a game moment."

Did it hurt?

"Very much."

Get better soon and I wish you all the best.

"Thank you."

I hung up the phone and was trying on Varlamov's baseball cap, and who should come out of the locker room but Sergei Kostitsyn.

"So you were rooting for Washington?" he said, looking at the cap.

It'd be silly to deny it. Are you upset that you lost?

"There's still 70 games left. What is there to be upset about?"

The Canadiens will be 100 years old on December 4. Are you proud?

"Yes, the Canadiens have a rich history" said Kostitsyn while limping.

What's wrong with your leg?

"It's twisted, it's nothing. There will be a celebration at the Bell Center. They are inviting some old players like Elmer Lach. There's going to be a grand ceremony. Can I give you a ride?" Sergei unexpectedly offers on the way to the parking garage.

You can imagine that I didn't think very long about it.

In the car we talked about Belarus, about summer, about injuries, and about who thought up exercising after a game. We listened to music. Russian music. He has an entire collection of modern Russian pop in his Porsche.

We arrived and I got out of his car. I immediately realized that I had lost Varlamov's cap. It wasn't in my hands, it wasn't on my head, and it wasn't in the car. I panicked. We returned back to the stadium.

After several minutes the entire Bell Center knew that a Russian journalist had lost a hat from Varlamov. Everyone took part in the search, from stevedores to general managers. And they looked everywhere, from the basement to the 8th floor. But they didn't find it. Having run three laps around the arena, in a lather and unglued, I returned to Kostitsyn.

I was expressionless. Such a gift, and I lost it! Sergei tried to console me with a Canadien's cap.

We returned to the hotel. We stopped in the exact same spot, I got out of the car, and I see lying there... the cap! On the pavement! Lying there! Nobody wanted it! What a happy day...

OVECHKIN:"I CAN'T GET ENOUGH STRETCHING"

I met up with Sasha Ovechkin the next day at a restaurant in the center of town.

"Sanya"-Ovechkin stands up and kisses my cheek.

Anya.

From the very first moment I feel like we've known each other for ten years.

The game was crazy yesterday. I never felt such emotions.

"Now go to a hockey game back in Moscow and compare the two."

I'll absolutely go. So do they differ much?

"Like night and day. The NHL is the best there is. To play here is a dream."

Does Washington have a good chance at the Stanley Cup this year?

"Right now we're in first place. But there are still 70 games ahead of us."

I guess you're pretty tired, huh?

"No, it's nothing. The main thing is to not think about being tired. Today I'm in Montreal, tomorrow I'll be in Carolina, then back again in Washington. That's my life, and I'm already used to it."

Do you fly on your own airplane?

"Yes, and it is mandatory to wear a suit. See, I'm already dressed"-Ovechkin fixes his tie. "Every player has his own seat on the plane. I have the second one, the very best!"

Do you also sit in the second seat on the bus?

"No, on the bus I'm on the third seat on the right. But after the game I always sit in the back of the bus. That's where the beer is."

What's it like living in Washington?

"It's good. It's a quiet city."

Do you get to Moscow often?

"During summer break. If you don't make it to the play-offs you have a full five months. If you make it to the play-offs it is three. But usually after the play-offs all the players are worn out. You spend your entire vacation recuperating. So are you a Muscovite?"

Yes.  Where do you live in the city?

"Vodny Stadion. The greenest region of Moscow. I go out on the balcony, sip some beer, stretch out and go to sleep. I say grace. That's how I spend my vacation.

A girl comes up to Ovechkin and asks for an autograph.

There's probably no place left on earth where you can sit in peace?

"Come on! Some places they know me, some places they don't. It's not hard to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Basically, my philosophy is ‘what the hell'.  This popularity is not really important to me" said Ovechkin, carelessly scribbling on a notepad.

So a star can never be captured?

"The illness of fame can be lost just as quickly as it is found."

Well it seems to me that the reputation of ‘caveman' flatters you.

"They call me caveman because I don't care what others think of me. I couldn't care less about anyone or anything."

If you didn't care about anything then you couldn't play the way you do.

"Well maybe I play the way I do only because it's all the same to me."

You mean to tell me that your manly unshaven face, your nonchalance, your missing tooth and yellow skates aren't part of your image?

"You want some wine?" Ovechkin suddenly changes the subject, taking a drink of a red California wine.

No thanks. Does someone create your image in the NHL? There must be a whole industry of image-makers there. - I continue the attack on the brink of a foul.

"I'm my own image-maker."

And fights-are they an integral part of the game?

"I don't fight. I hit. If I'm not doing it, I'm receiving it. Have you ever been to Beijing?" Once again Ovechkin changes the subject.

I have been.

"Was it good?"

That's not the word for it. It was the best thing that ever happened in my life.

"I was also in Beijing, when the women's fencers won the first gold medal. Now I can hardly wait for Vancouver. The World Cup is one thing, and the Olympics is something else entirely. We were only fourth place in Turin. Now we need to show them what we're made of."

What is more important, the Olympics or the Stanley Cup?

"Right now, the Olympics. I want to become an Olympic champion. But now you, as a synchronized swimmer, must be very limber?" Ovechkin asks suddenly.

Of course I'm limber.

"I don't stretch enough. I'm a forward, after all. You have to be flexible to slip between the defensemen. Every time I go to the gym I tell myself that I need to stretch, but I don't really do a good job of it. And my hands are small. I can't even wrap my hand around my wrist. I can only do yours."

Sasha takes my wrist in his hand.

Well now you're exaggerating; after all, you hold a stick in your hand. Now comes my turn to change the subject. Recently I saw your picture on the cover of a magazine. You looked cool!

"Glad you liked my picture, at least." --said Ovechkin and smiled a not-quite "I don't give a damn" smile.

Just don't complain that nobody likes you!

"I don't really care." Once again Ovechkin puts on his mask of indifference. "I'm only 24 years old. I'm not ready to settle down yet. How about you?"    

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