Alex Ovechkin: Olympic Gold or Stanley Cup? Both

[It seems like Alex Ovechkin opened the floodgates for interviews during the past week. Alex Ovetjkin's site has done a great job keeping up with them, especially all the interviews during a recent nightclub party. In addition to those, I found this interview which appeared in yesterday's edition of the Saransk newspaper "Stolitsa S". Saransk is the capital city of the republic of Mordvinia (aka Mordovia), and as background information, you should know that Ovechkin and his family hail from the republic of Mordvinia and are very proud of their Mordvinian heritage, so in effect this was an interview with his "hometown" newspaper.]

***

5 years ago he left to conquer America, taking with him not only his athletic talent but also a desire to work. Today, Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best hockey players on earth. He has won every possible individual title in the most prestigious league on the planet, the NHL. Recently, Barack Obama admitted that he was happy to live in the same city as Ovechkin and highly values his contribution to the Washington Capitals.

 "Hello, Saransk!"-- was the immediate response from the idol of the American president to MIKHAIL NIKISHIN's telephone call. "I was waiting for you to call. I'm ready to answer (your questions). I don't keep any secrets from my native Mordvinia."

Alexander, last season was one of the most successful of your career. Washington made it to the quarter-finals of the Stanley Cup; you were named the regular season MVP... Have you already started your training?

"Yes, I recently arrived from America and immediately went to work. Right now I'm doing light training- morning runs, calisthenics. I'll get in shape gradually. Right now I'm working out on an individualized program at a training camp in Novogorsk under the guidance of Dmitry Kapitanov ."

The 2009/2010 season is special. It's an Olympic year. The only thing missing from your profuse collection of awards is an Olympic medal... Right now a lot of experts are debating why the Russian national team coaches have invited only four KHL players to the Olympic team, and all the other positions are being held for NHL players... This tempts one come to a conclusion about the weakness of the Russian league and the strength of the NHL.

"It wouldn't be right to evaluate the strengths or weaknesses of the KHL, but... I think the coaches can tell better than anyone who is in Olympic shape... I think that the strongest hockey players should play at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  That means that inviting NHL players to the team is the best way to accomplish that. Now take the 2006 Olympics in Turin-(where the Russian team under Vladimir Krikunov lost third place to the Czechs by a score of 0:3-ed.)-not all of the most worthy players were there.... Some of the players on the team were just along for the ride."

Like who?

"The fourth line (Frolov, Kozlov, Korolyuk-ed.) obviously fell out. Without those players the team wouldn't have lost anything. I can't even fathom why Danis Zapirov and Alexei Morozov weren't invited to Turin! There were probably some undercurrents felt during the formation of the team. But why talk about the past, you have to think about the future!..."

Your partner in the Russian national team, Sergei Fedorov, recently moved from Washington to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and will turn 40 this year. That's a considerable age for a hockey player... Some skeptics feel that he doesn't have anything left to offer the Olympics...

"They said the same thing before the 2008 World Championships in Quebec, when Sergei was 39. But he came and became the best center forward of the tournament and made the gold-medal winning pass to Kovalchuk! That immediately shut up all the skeptics. I'm sorry that he left Washington..."

Are you keeping up with the newest Washington recruits?

"Absolutely! I know that contracts were recently signed with Gordon, Morrison and Knuble. I'm really happy so far. I think that GM George McPhee is trying to get another strong defenseman."

And now to the question about the KHL and NHL. Do you think these leagues will ever be equals in strength and showmanship?

"It's difficult to say... I don't play in the KHL and don't particularly follow all the drama of the regular season. I'm more immersed in the North American stew. Judging by the remarks of my friends and various specialists, the KHL hasn't caught up to the NHL. Even in the future it will be difficult for them to compete."

What do you think about this legal battle between the NHL and the KHL, where several players signed duplicate contracts?

"Hockey players and their agents couldn't think up anything stupider than this if they tried! You have to honor your team. If you signed a contract-fulfill it! In such situations I put personal relationships first, not money. You need to keep your word and not betray your employer."

Did you hear what Barack Obama said about you during his visit to Moscow?

"Yeah, I heard about that. It was really great. I would even say it was an honor. It's nice that such people know that I exist...."

Have you met the President of the United States?

"Not yet. He only invites Stanley Cup winners. Next season I'm going to put forth all my effort to have a reason to meet with Obama."

They say that Obama is going to end the cold war between Russian and the USA...

"To be honest, I don't see any change in politics right now. Especially since Obama hasn't yet been able to familiarize himself with his new position."

You're not always treated with kid gloves in America... For example the well-known Canadian sports analyst and showman Don Cherry roughly criticized you for your extravagant goal-scoring celebration.

"Of course, there were a lot of people grumbling at that time. He's already old, Don Cherry, so he's conservative in his hockey customs. He doesn't like to see how I celebrate goals. He simply doesn't care for Russian players. He's just as rough on Kovalchuk. Let him jabber on as much as he wants, it doesn't make any difference to me. Russian hockey players show their worth on the ice."

Cherry even suggested that you should be drawn and quartered.

"I don't take offense from fools. I smiled when I saw his program. He probably just envies Russia..."

After his remarks did you change your ways?

"Not a drop! I still heartily rejoice goals and wins. I'm a very emotional guy and always will be."

You still gladly participate in various television projects. Doesn't this interfere with the game?

"Well, why not go on some talk shows or give some interviews? True, I'm not interested in any long-term projects. For instance, why should I suffer for a long time on "The Last Hero" on some forgotten island? It's hard enough for me in Washington. (laughs-ed.)

For the second year now you've been named the NHL MVP. Do you plan on being first for a long time?

"I don't plan on slowing down for even a second! Next year I'll also try to be the best! If I win the Hart Trophy three times in a row that will be an unbelievable accomplishment."

Many experts this year voted for Evgeni Malkin...

"Zhenya Malkin is equally worthy of awards. His statistics were simply phenomenal! He brought a lot of benefit to his team and won the Stanley Cup."

There are so many stories being made up about your duel with him on the ice... Do you also compete with Malkin off the ice?

"No. But I wouldn't say that we are friends. Our relationship is basically "hello-goodbye"."

So are you friends with any NHL players?

"Sometimes I go to restaurants with Pasha Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. I'm friends with them."

A lot of experts overseas have been trumpeting for a while about the Russian occupation of the NHL...

"So let them. It's enjoyable for our fans when a Russian player gets put up on a pedestal. Three Russian guys took five individual awards, including top goal scorer and top point scorer! And we did all of this for our native country. Our hockey is on the rise! I hope that Russian kids will look at me, Malkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk and also dream about becoming the best hockey player on earth. But to do that you have to work hard. In hockey, just as in life, nothing is simply given to you."

Can you reveal your main secret-why do you play better that all the rest?

"I don't even know" (laughs). "My main principle is to never stop, to work and to improve every day. Mordvinian obstinacy has been a great help to me. (laughs). And another one of my rules is that it is never a shame to study."

Are your victories this year dedicated to anybody?

"I really wish that my late brother could have been at the awards ceremony. (His brother Sergei was tragically killed in a car accident when Alexander was 10 years old- ed.) Also, this year my grandfather passed away. (Nikolai Mikhailovich Kabaev, born in the village of Shoksa in the Tenushevsky region, passed away at 84 years of age in November of last year-ed,) I dedicated the Lester Pearson MVP Award to their memory. It also meant a lot that the prize was awarded to me by Vladimir Konstantinov and Igor Larin. I idolized their game when I was a kid."

What do you do in your free time?

"I love to listen to music. I once went to a Metallica concert and I really liked it. But usually I listen to dance music. The most important thing is that the songs are in Russian. I like a lot of different performers, from Nadezhda Babkina to Zhanna Friske."

By the way, the press wrote a whole lot about your torrid love affair with Zhanna Friske...

"All of that was a lie! It was after the publication of that story that I knew why some media outlets are called yellow. I don't even have time to simply sit in front of a television, so what does that say about my private life!"

So you don't have a favorite girl?

"I have a lot of girls-but I don't have a favorite (laughs - ed.). I still haven't found my one and only. To be honest, I'm not in that big of a hurry to start a family."

And finally the most troubling question: everything is understood about Vancouver 2010, but is it possible that the NHL won't allow you to play in the Olympics in Sochi in 2014?

"First, right now all my thoughts are on the Vancouver Olympic games. Second, I cannot even imagine that somebody would forbid me to go to Sochi! I understand perfectly that the Olympics in your native country is a once in a lifetime event. If some politician dreams of carrying out such a prohibition, then why should Russian hockey players play in Vancouver?! The decision about the participation of NHL players in the Sochi Olympic Games will be made in 2012, when the league and the players union sign a new collective bargaining agreement. And if they forbid us, it will be ugly and wrong."

SPECIAL QUESTION

What is more important for you next season-the Olympics or the Stanley Cup?

"The Olympics are my dream! True, I still haven't tamed the Stanley Cup. But it is difficult to compare these two tournaments. The Olympics happen only once every four years, and you defend the honor of your country there. But you still have to plough like a horse during the regular season. 82 games is no joke. So my goal-is to win both trophies!"

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