Ovechkin Overseas: Russia Edition

The Russian-born captain of the Washington Capitals is known for hightailing it out of Washington, D.C. at the close of the hockey season. Who can blame him? He loves his home country, and his home country loves him. In July, Forbes Russia named Alex Ovechkin the second most successful Russian athlete on its list of the 40 most successful sports athletes under 40. Although UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov took the top spot, Ovechkin is the most commercially successful hockey player in the country. Some might argue that earning second spot because you netted $14.5 million in revenue is the greatest accomplishment from the months without hockey. We take the opposite approach. Here are some cooler highlights from Ovechkin’s time in Russia.

All Things Dynamo, Moscow  

The Russian has always been a good ambassador for his hometown. One of his first duties this summer was performing the honorary first kick in an August soccer game between FC Dynamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg of the Russian Premier Liga. Boasting a blue Dynamo Moscow scarf, Ovechkin was gifted a ball signed by Dmitri Khokhlov, a former player and the team’s current manager. Sadly, that was the best thing to come from the game. Dynamo fell 0-2 to the visiting Zenit.

Alexander Ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

An unfriendly score did not derail his visit. While in Moscow, Ovechkin found the time to attend a Team Russia basketball game and the Moscow Grand Prix. Before heading to China as an ambassador for the NHL, Ovechkin cheered his countryman, Vitaliy Fridzon, captain of Russia’s national basketball team, from the sidelines at the Alexander Gomelsky Universal Sports Hall.

However, the Russian celebrity is never simply sitting on the sidelines. He interacted with fans in his section and took countless pictures with excited followers. He looked happy and relaxed. It was hard for him not to enjoy the game, because Alex has always been a fan of basketball. His mother won two gold medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games playing for Russia’s women’s national team. He honors her by wearing number eight. Team Russia ended up beating Jordan by a score of 111-71. Obviously, they wanted to honor the Ovechkin legacy – but who’s to say?

The hockey star’s power might have influenced the FIDE Grand Prix as well. Since chess is another longtime passion, Ovechkin stopped by the matchup between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk and performed the ceremonial “first move.” Did Ovechkin’s omnipresence help
Nepomniachtchi defeat Grischuk in the second tiebreak game? Who’s to say?

We can say that the left winger has a knack for the game himself. Although Ovechkin does not compete at an advanced level, he frequently plays – including friendly games with Pittsburgh Penguins forward, Evgeni Malkin.

Alexander Ovechkin poses with his childhood friend, Nikita Kashirsky. (hockeyplayersaskids.tumblr.com)

Back to His Roots

Ovechkin began his career with Dynamo and, in August, returned to his roots to celebrate several events. Early in the month, he dropped the first puck at a KHL preseason game between Dynamo Moscow and Avangard Omsk. He has played with his hometown team on-and-off throughout his career; most recently in 2012 during the NHL lockout. That is the official record.

Unofficially, the last time was this week. Ovechkin returned to Moscow ice, wearing a Russian jersey to practice with his personal trainer, Pavel Burlachenko. Was it premonition or practice? The future might hold a return to Moscow. For now, the Great 8 maintains an advisory role with the Blue-and-Whites.

Even Hockey Gods Have to Eat

He might act as an adviser to Dynamo Moscow, but he serves as inspiration for Papa John’s pizza. Starting in 2015, the left winger inked a contract with Papa John’s – which led to a deal with Papa John’s Russia in 2017. The Russian chain recently released news that it plans to brand a pizza after the hockey star. The star ingredients will represent one of Ovi’s favorite foods: nachos. Toppings include Italian sausage, jalapeno peppers, mozzarella cheese, nachos and nacho cheese. While the pizza will be released in October throughout Russia, there is no confirmation that the concoction will be available for consumption in North America. If that is not a cool way to spend your summer, you aren’t doing summer right.

All in the Name of Others

However, creating a nacho pizza was not the coolest thing on which Ovechkin and Papa John’s collaborated. The hockey player and his sponsor teamed up for charity, celebrating the opening of a new basketball court with a friendly game to benefit the Kirilenko Fund. Proceeds benefited children’s hospitals, orphanages and sports facilities. The updated court is a part of the fund’s mission to renovate old facilities and construct new athletic spaces. That mission is spearheaded by Andrei Kirilenko, the current commissioner for the Russian Basketball Federation and former basketball standout. Andrei and Alex go way back. With help from another friend, professional basketball player Vitaliy Fridzon, the event brought smiles and laughs to all the kids involved.

Alex Ovechkin (THW Archives)

If that does not touch your heart, here is another cause Ovechkin championed. Last month, Ovechkin offered his painting skills in order to raise money for the Russian para-hockey league. He was joined by two kids from the Children’s Sledge Hockey League: Viktoria Zamataeva from the “Soviet Wings” and Nikita Fomenko from “Tropic.” Together, the trio created several pieces that will first be displayed at an exhibition in Moscow and then auctioned off. Money raised benefits the Children’s Sledge Hockey League, whose goal is to introduce the game of ice hockey to special children. Heart is melted.

What Capitals Need from Ovi

While the summer months proved productive for the Caps captain, there is a team waiting for its star player. What the club needs from the captain is more of the same. As an article from Russian Machine Never Breaks succinctly sums, “Over the last five seasons, Alex Ovechkin has scored 53 more goals than the next closest player.”

Unsurprisingly, the scoring machine leads the league in goals. Over the past five seasons, he has put up 236 goals ahead of second-ranked player, John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who scored 183. With those numbers, Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in four of the last five seasons. One of the greatest scorers in hockey history surpassed the 50-goal threshold three times during that span. For the statistical analyzers out there: that means that Ovechkin could have forfeited last season and still retained first place. These stats include 2017, when the Great 8 finished 15th in goal scoring with 33, 11 tallies behind the league leader, Sidney Crosby.

Yes, more of that please.