Ovechkin feels at home in Russia
This fall, NHL star Alexander Ovechkin has been delighting fans of Moscow's Dynamo squad, just as he did as a young man. During the NHL lockout, Ovechkin traded his Washington jersey for Dynamo's blue and white, and he has been knocking in the goals ever since: 14 scores in 14 matches.
Getting an audience with “Ovi” is an adventure in itself. It would be wrong to say that “Alexander the Great” (as he is also known in North America) actively avoids journalists, since he manages to talk to the press far more often than many less illustrious soccer players.
Still, Ovechkin sees the whole process as an unavoidable inconvenience. During interviews, Ovechkin is known to gaze indifferently into space and limit his answers to monosyllabic responses. They say this is just a feature of his character. Talking for long periods tires him out, and he loses concentration. Even the team’s own magazine, Dynamo, had to interview him in two stages that were no longer than 15 minutes each.
So when Alexander allocated a whopping ten minutes to Rossiyskaya Gazeta (RG), it was a very big deal – even though the hockey star succeeded in haggling it down to seven minutes, in the end.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Alexander, according to information from the U.S., the NHL season might still get underway – and soon. For how much longer will we [in Moscow] be able to watch you play in the flesh?
Alexander Ovechkin: I have no news about that. Of course, I know a bit more than the press, but it makes no sense to talk about it. Why blow up rumor into fact? If it's possible to stay here, I'll play for Dynamo. I've developed an excellent relationship with the club, the coaching staff, and the guys on the team. I feel at home.
RG: The club president says that, even if the NHL lockout ends, Dynamo still wants to keep Ovechkin. Is that realistic?
A.O.: I don't think it's “unrealistic.” Anything is possible. But let's wait and see what happens over there across the ocean.
RG: Can the top players in the NHL somehow influence the negotiations between the Players’ Union and the League?
A.O.: Our head, Donald Fehr, is very well acquainted with our terms and conditions. Nobody wants a pay cut or a lower status. Everything in that respect is up to Fehr. We have full confidence in him, but there could be some twists and turns ahead.
RG: Is there a chance you'll get a phone call saying, "They're offering these terms... Shall we accept?"
A.O.: They're not market people; this is not some kind of trade. The NHL is a large organization and is looking to the future. No one wants to enter into a good contract this season, only to be followed by three or four years on terms that don't suit us. Everything must be systematic and according to plan.
RG: Is the lockout a blow to hockey in general?
A.O.: Well, of course. In Canada it's hurting bad – local hockey fans are going crazy. But, I repeat: we want to play, but the club owners don't want us to.
RG: Compared with the KHL as it was when you left for the States, is the league more competitive now?
A.O.: To be honest, I don't even remember what it used to be like, because I left a long time ago and didn't play all that much in Russia. So I can't really compare. The hockey is decent, the organization is great, everything's top notch.
RG: If today's Dynamo played in the NHL, where would it finish?
A.O.: There, as here, the regular season means nothing. The main thing is the playoffs. In any case, I don't think you can compare the NHL and the KHL in terms of hockey. There you need to practice to get used to the smaller rinks. It's a completely different type of game. The NHL is more compact: smaller rinks mean you have to think faster. Here you have more time to make decisions.
RG: We can see what a great player you are. But what else do you have time for other than hockey?
A.O.: (Gloomily) Interviews.
RG: I guess being at home is better, with friends nearby. You get to see more of them...
A.O.: Home sweet home, and all that; but the traffic jams are a killer. To get to the base takes ten minutes, but back again — two hours. So it's difficult to arrange anything.
RG: Your last message on Twitter was a sensation: you posted a clip of how a pipe burst in the hotel room you and Mikhail Anisin were sharing in Nizhny Novgorod...
A.O.: (Laughs) Yes, stuff happens.
RG: Is that the first time you've encountered that?
A.O.: I've had burst pipes at home. It's nothing unusual – just funny. For a laugh, I wanted to show that it was our room that had a burst pipe.
RG: Why was this Tweet followed by a two-week silence? Nearly half a million readers are waiting for an update.
A.O.: Just nothing interesting has happened. I can't write that I showed up for training. If there's any important or interesting news, of course I'll share it on the global network.
RG: How much do you engage in online activity? Four hundred seventy thousand readers — that's more than many newspapers. Quite a readership.
A.O.: I love Twitter. I think it's the best way for people in the public eye to create personal pages. Every fan should see what his idol does. Ordinary people can write and find out what's going on.
RG: We followed your emotions on Twitter in London, [when you were] supporting Maria Kirilenko at the Olympics. You had an unusual summer, yes?
A.O.: Summer really did turn out unexpectedly. I spent a lot of time on the road with my girlfriend, and I'm glad I did.
RG: You were at the Winter Olympics as a player. Now you've been at the Summer Olympics as a spectator. Were your feelings different?
A.O.: The thing is, in London, Masha and I lived in a house – not in the Olympic village or at the base. Therefore, it's difficult to compare.
RG: How much better do you understand tennis now?
A.O.: I've started to understand it more. I like it and pick up a racket myself, from time to time. And Masha, too, I think understands hockey more than before.
RG: Maria's tennis season is over. Is she now always by your side?
A.O.: Yes, it's great. We'll spend her time off here in Russia.
First published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.