On the evening Alex Ovechkin cemented his legacy, he deserted the long-sought trophy in a seek for one thing extra necessary. He was annoyed and impatient, standing on the fringe of the T-Mobile Arena ice sheet and eager to know one factor.
“Where is my family?” He requested for a 3rd time. “Where is my wife?”
By this level, Ovechkin had turned to his teammates, pumped his fists and screamed earlier than lifting the Stanley Cup for a primary time, lastly a champion together with one of many best gamers of all time. He had barely let that hulking silver chalice out of his sight, graciously passing it alongside to Capitals proprietor Ted Leonsis whereas retaining his hand close to – simply in case it bought too heavy. He bumped his proper fist to the beat of followers chanting his identify after which he exhaled whereas rolling his eyes, maybe in disbelief that his second was right here eventually.
He hugged teammate Andre Burakovsky’s father, then Nicklas Backstrom‘s household after which Dmitry Orlov‘s spouse, Varvara, who lastly advised him his personal family members have been on their means. At the sight of his crying, pregnant spouse Nastya, Ovechkin rushed over to kiss her after which hug his in-laws. An NHL official requested Ovechkin if he was prepared to depart the ice and maintain a information convention because the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, the postseason’s most precious participant.
But Ovechkin was nonetheless on the lookout for his brother within the mayhem on the ice. He needed to take an image.
“I think this moment, we waiting a long, long time,” Ovechkin mentioned.
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Standing within the yard of her Moscow nation dwelling in February, Tatiana Ovechkina identified the lake the place her son swims in the summertime, the place he grills steaks for his company, the place he performs basketball and tennis. The courts are lined with banners along with his identify and face on them. She was a basketball participant, an Olympic gold medalist, and when her youngest son was born, she sensed he was destined for a similar sporting greatness.
“From birth, it was obvious,” Ovechkina mentioned. “In a child, it’s clear immediately. He was very active and walking and curious.”
Leonsis had that very same good feeling about Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin, when the Capitals drafted him first total on June 26, 2004. And then he was actually offered when he noticed him eat three cantaloupes at a fan occasion that evening.
“I honestly could feel his heart pumping, which is what everyone has been saying about him: His engine runs at higher RPMs,” Leonsis mentioned then.
Fittingly, for all of Ovechkin’s feats and flaws over the previous 14 years, he has been the Capitals’ heartbeat. He revitalized a fan base along with his plain scoring means and exuberant aim celebrations. His broad gap-toothed smile turned as signature as his power-play one-timer from the left faceoff circle. His dejected expression after defeat turned a springtime custom.
In the afterglow of victory, Ovechkin sat between the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy and he needed to inform a narrative. As a 20-year-old rookie, he visited Leonsis’s dwelling and swam within the pool along with his children. Speaking English was nonetheless a wrestle, and the native Russian was each wowed and overwhelmed by his new North American environment. Mostly, he was a child residing away from dwelling for a primary time, not but absolutely greedy his place within the franchise and in Washington. Leonsis mentioned one thing that afternoon that stayed with Ovechkin 12 years later.
“He told me, like, one day we’re going to win it,” Ovechkin mentioned. “It was the first year. I don’t even know what the team is.”
In 2008, he signed a 13-year deal value roughly $9.5 million yearly, one of the vital profitable NHL contracts with an eye-popping time period. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern advised Leonsis he was a idiot for signing Ovechkin to that size a deal, that the famous person would turn into unmotivated. Leonsis disagreed, and his one remorse is that the deal wasn’t 15 years lengthy.
“Not a lot of people can deliver on their promises,” Leonsis mentioned. “From the first moment he got drafted, diving into the crowd, eating his cantaloupes, getting people drinks, he’s always been an extrovert and connected so well with the team.”
Not lengthy after the Capitals gained the Presidents’ Trophy for recording the NHL’s finest common season document however misplaced to the Montreal Canadiens within the first spherical of the 2010 playoffs, Leonsis made a promise: “Alex and the Caps are gonna win Stanley Cups. We’re either gonna win it this year or next year or the year after. We’re gonna get better, too.”
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After 9 postseason journeys that ended in need of the convention finals, Leonsis’s prognostication appeared much less of a certain factor. Ovechkin went from the fresh-faced and fun-loving star to the weary captain. Once the hope of the franchise, Ovechkin appeared exhausted from the repeated disappointments, typically the one blamed most for them.
At 32 years outdated, his hair was extra grey than black, and after he scored 33 targets throughout the 2016-17 season – an excellent 12 months for many gamers, however considered one of his worst – Ovechkin’s profession gave the impression to be on the decline going into this marketing campaign.
His private life additionally had been the topic of some scrutiny. He was photographed carrying sun shades the other way up whereas partying with Russian membership dancers on a yacht in Turkey throughout the 2010 offseason, and he needed to area questions on his health stage a 12 months later due to that wasn’t variety to his midsection. The party-boy picture was extra fodder for his critics, particularly in distinction to on-ice rival and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had gained a primary Stanley Cup by that time and needed out of the highlight when he wasn’t taking part in.
Ovechkin met Russian tennis professional Maria Kirilenko on the 2011 U.S. Open, and the couple was engaged by December of the next 12 months. She introduced the engagement was damaged off in July 2014 earlier than marrying another person the next January. Two months later, Ovechkin went public along with his relationship to Nastya Shubskaya, a Russian mannequin and socialite. They have been engaged in September 2016 and married final summer season in an extravagant ceremony.
During that still-giddy interval between the marriage and the honeymoon, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz requested to fulfill Ovechkin in Moscow, the place Trotz was visiting his son.
Ovechkin picked up Trotz from his resort close to Red Square after which gave him a tour, driving him round Moscow after which declaring the condo the place he grew up. The two males then went to a restaurant the place everybody knew Ovechkin. They have been seated in a non-public room, the place the coach leveled along with his participant: The 2017-18 Capitals would not be as skilled or as proficient, so that they could not afford one other lackluster season from Ovechkin just like the final one.
“The game’s changing, and a lot of people think your game is not going to translate and you can’t do anything anymore because you’re getting older,” Trotz recalled telling Ovechkin that day. “The recreation’s getting faster; it is a younger man’s league, and also you’re getting older. Just as a coach and simply as a good friend, realizing this recreation, how you are going to have continued success is you are going to should turn into extra of an athlete.
Trotz then advised Ovechkin to give attention to being one of the best persistently, “slightly than, ‘Oh, we have now a very good staff, and I will be good right here tonight as a result of we have not misplaced two in a row,'” he mentioned.
Ovechkin returned to Washington greater than two weeks earlier than coaching camp, skating within the mornings and working across the Washington-Lee High School monitor within the late afternoons. He was simply 4 kilos lighter, however the Capitals noticed a change in his physique composition. Trotz noticed one thing of an perspective change, too.
Ovechkin opened the season with hat methods within the first two video games. He completed with 49 targets, with 32 at even power, his most since 2010.
“What does he do? He comes into the beginning of the season, will get seven targets in two video games,” Trotz said. “There are guys who cannot get seven in a 12 months; he bought seven in two video games. He type of set that bar personally as a result of a whole lot of issues have been mentioned about him that I feel he’s very prideful and simply mentioned, ‘You know what, I will show you all improper.’ And he did.”
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As Ovechkin assembled his household on the ice in Las Vegas Thursday evening, he retrieved the Stanley Cup after which offered it to his spouse for a primary time, propping it up in order her palms rubbed it. The Ovechkins had needed to maintain the information of the being pregnant quiet till after the playoffs so it would not be a distraction, however as Ovechkin rubbed his hand on his spouse’s pregnant stomach, a close-by fan cheered, “There’s a child!” Applause adopted, and Nastya fortunately took video on her cellphone of the gang of crimson jerseys celebrating her rising household.
Finally prepared to depart the T-Mobile Arena ice, Ovechkin kicked off his skates and tossed on teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov’s slippers earlier than sitting down at a desk on a raised stage. The Stanley Cup was to his proper.
“We waited so lengthy. We’re ready 13 years to get the Cup,” Ovechkin said, turning his head to look at the trophy with his reflection staring back at him in the silver. “This is one thing. Something particular. It’s unbelievable.”
Ovechkin was by no means the first cause for the Capitals’ historical past of playoff disappointments – he was a near-point-per-game producer even earlier than this postseason, when he scored 15 targets and 12 assists in 24 video games – however maybe the group would not have claimed the primary championship in its 44-year historical past had Ovechkin not performed probably the most well-rounded hockey of his profession. Among the staff’s forwards, he blocked the fifth-most photographs, and although the significance of that’s typically overstated, Ovechkin’s dedication despatched a message. His enthusiasm when somebody apart from him scored was infectious.
“He’s performed a greater staff recreation the entire 12 months,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s been extra of a pacesetter the entire 12 months. You see him within the playoffs this 12 months, and he is our greatest participant.”
The Capitals’ victory occasion raged on, from a Las Vegas membership Thursday to a Virginia bar to Nationals Park to Georgetown, the place Ovechkin jumped right into a fountain shirtless and made snow-angels within the water. He performed boozy singings of “We Are The Champions.” And then he took the Stanley Cup dwelling Saturday evening for a small household gathering.
He positioned it on his patio desk, beside the Conn Smythe trophy, awarded to the playoffs MVP, which was adorned with a speaker taking part in a Russian tune about love. His spouse was sitting to his proper, his father-in-law to his left and his mom straight throughout from him. Ovechkin had all the things he wanted, and the evening was capped with a photograph of Ovechkin in mattress with the Stanley Cup, the trophy on his chest and his spouse beside him.
“I feel that this is without doubt one of the finest moments of my life for certain,” Ovechkin said earlier that day. “It’s going to be for my life.”
The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.