If you thought Alex Ovechkin's offseason consisted solely of a whirlwind of hookahs and beer, you'd be mistaken. Alex has also been playing the role of dutiful role-model in helping out youth hockey programs at his old alma-mater, Dynamo Moscow, as we see in this interview with Pavel Lysenkov in today's issue of Sovetsky Sport.
On Saturday, Russian National Team forward Alexander Ovechkin participated in a charity event where he played the role of ambassador for the Gillette company, presenting a check from the company for one million rubles to Dynamo's youth hockey program. Following the event Ovechkin gave an exclusive interview to Sovetsky Sport, and today we present the first part of the interview.
The event took place on the seventh floor of the "European" Shopping Mall, where the rink is located. For those who aren't aware, the practice rink for Washington is also located on the seventh floor of a large mall, so Ovechkin felt right at home.
Alexander first conducted a master class for fans, and at the request of the public he demonstrated the trick he performed at the All Star game in Montreal where he picked up the puck on the shaft of his stick. He also showed off the "puck between the skates" feint invented by Firsov. And if somebody had asked him to demonstrate his well-known behind-the head goal he made against Phoenix, a highly animated t-shirt clad Alexander would have immediately raced out on the ice and roared down the rink, but it was now time to start the official part of the ceremony.
The Gillette company made a charitable contribution in the amount of 1,000,000 rubles (for verification, the amount was also spelled out on the check) for the development of youth hockey. Ovechkin presented this check to the director of the Dynamo school, Mikhail Titov. In place of the standard autograph on the check, Sasha boldly wrote out "Thanks for everything! From Ovi".
"How could it be otherwise?" asked Ovechkin surprisingly at the start of our interview. "This is my alma mater. I grew up in Dynamo. This is where I was pointed down the true course. If you have the opportunity, you have to help."
When you were young did famous players give you any equipment?
"Oh yeah, during the Spartak Cup I was given Zhamnov's stick. Another time Larionov gave me a stick. That was a long time ago but I still remember it. And now I understand just how much it means for the young kids when stars of the game give them gifts."
An interesting picture has been making the rounds on the internet, of a young Ovechkin in a Buffalo jacket. Where did you get it?
"Oh man, that is an old photograph! It seems it is from Croatia, or some other country. My dad bought me the jacket for two hundred dollars. Why Buffalo? I just liked the emblem."
Does the NHL do any charitable events?
"Of course. For example the league sets aside bonuses for individual prizes-five digit sums in dollars. I have that money sent to my native club."
Three-time Olympic champion and Dynamo Vice President Vitaly Davidov recently said "Anymore it is not worth it to prepare hockey player such as Sasha Ovechkin. It turns out that we aren't raising them for us, but for our Uncle overseas. We'd be better off training mid-level players who would go play for our teams and not the NHL". Do you agree with this?
"Of course not. If there are talented guys you need to guide them and develop them. They don't have to become another Ovechkin, Malkin or Kovalchuk. They need to be themselves."
"And if we focus on the mid level types... "Why bother educating players? Let's just throw them in the furnace and be done with them".. We won't get very far that way. Russian hockey will quickly start to go downhill."
A few years ago you said in an interview with Sovetsky Sport that "More than anyone else, Bilyaletdinov had the most influence on me. When he came to Dynamo he took me in like a puppy dog and started to teach me. Thanks to Zinetula Khaidarovich I became the man I am now. When Krikunov came to Dynamo, I was already playing really well." Can you tell us a little more about that?
"When the coach believes in you and sees potential, he does everything so that the player develops. He didn't raise middling players. My first master-level mentor was Vladimir Semenov, and then for some time I worked with Andrei Pyatanov, and then Bilyaletdinov."
‘He believed in me. He really built up my spirit. At that time I was 17 years old...Even after practice had finished. He told me what I needed to do. He stood at the boards watching me at work, and if I didn't do something quite right Bilyaletdinov would come out and correct me."
"Zinetula Khaidarovich gave me confidence and taught me the necessary skills. The little hockey things that make up a game."
"In 2007 he took me to the World Cup. I was there for only two games, against Slovakia and three or four shifts in the quarterfinals against America. But imagine this small-time boy coming in and immediately going in to the locker room with the stars. And the opposing team had some big guys playing for them. It was a priceless experience!"
What is your reaction to the news that Bilyaletdinov might take the helm of Team Russia?
"I don't want to talk about that right now. When the selection has been made, then we can talk."
And what words do you have for former head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, who has been sidelined? Many players are keeping silent..."
"We won our first gold medal at the World Championship for the first time in 15 years with Bykov. No hockey player will say a bad word about him. Thank you very much for all you've done, Bykov!"