We thought Alexander Ovechkin was spending his vacation not just in Moscow, but in a very specific place of Moscow, at the outdoor cafe at Pushkin Square. He sits at one table, his agent, watching, at the next table. Nothing changes except the journalists who replace each other. Based of this summer's public relations campaign Alexander, the World Champion and the holder of almost all NHL trophies, may well run for the office. Whatever office he'd wish to.
So we followed the suit and asked for the interview as well. It was a mortal sin to miss this chance. The same evening we also interviewed Alex' legendary Mom, Tatiana Nikolaevna Ovechkina, double Olympic champion in basketball. The same woman who was the reason for the great Lenigrad Spartacus Head Coach Kondrashin to cancel the evening training session with the team. He'd say, "Tonight the training is cancelled. The Moscow Dynamo is in town. Let's go and watch Ovechkina with Voronina…"
Does your current vacation has a schedule for every single minute, one interview after another?
Oh yeah. Especially difficult were the last two days. I will have to relax from the hockey and journalists for another week. My brains are fried already though. Just want to turn off the phone, lock the doors at my dacha and forget about everything.
So your vacation hasn't actually started yet?
I went to Turkey for ten days. Only there I could catch a breath.
Are you becoming a robot in front of the interviewing recorder?
I don't know. Had to push myself. Hopefully it will be just for a few days.
What was the most unusual question you've heard during these interviews?
One comrade asked which hand I am more skilled with. He meant with what hand I play hockey. A person far from the sports, albeit a man. It was funny.
Is it a hard work to be a famous man?
I have to sacrifice my health to be famous…
That's why you have a gray hair at 23 years of age?
I've started to get gray hair since I was 17. I follow my father. He too got the gray hair early.
Is it been a while since you got tired of being recognized?
In Moscow nobody cares, they have new stars every day. Sometimes it happens, but it is not the same as in other cities. In some cities you walk and with every step you hear "Oh, hello, hello..."
How many times you've watched the tape with the finals of the World Championship?
I watched the ending several times and if I stumble on the video of our celebrations on internet, I watch it again.
Have you seen anything that you haven't seen on ice?
No, I oversaw all. I remember everything!
You've brought the souvenir from the Worlds, the Canadian silver dollar
Before the game started our team had a meeting in the center circle, and at these moments I always go down on my knees. And I looked down "Wow! A coin under the ice!" Canadians planted the silver dollar for good luck. And Ilya Nikulin and I decided that if we win the championship, we'll break through the ice and get this coin.
Did you have to break a sweat to penetrate the ice?
It turned out easier than I thought. I hit the ice with the heel of the skate and that was it. The coin could be seen through the ice, I was pecking not just blindly, but with a direction. I gave the dollar to Nikulin, he'll make two small pendants for me and himself.
Do you have even more interesting souvenirs in your house?
The puck of the first goal I scored in the NHL. I keep all the pucks, the fiftieth, one hundredth ... Some are in Moscow, some in Washington.
When it was announced in the plane that you were going straight to the Kremlin, what were your thoughts? Maybe "would be nice to get sober quickly"?
We were not drunk. By that time we've already celebrated for so long that we ended sleeping during the whole flight. Prior to that we spent the entire night on our feet. I think we didn't even have the 'exhaust' (odor of alcohol), we only drank champagne.
Sounds like you don't want to talk about it.
About how much we drank? Of course, I don't like it. This is none of your journalist's business, to know how we relax and how we celebrate…
Did anyone got upset by the fact that you came to meeting with the President of Russia in slippers?
For what? It was a coincidence, I had no chance to change. Do you think I'd intentionally go to the Kremlin barefoot in slippers?
Did you catch the puzzled looks on you?
They were a bit dumbfounded. But my Mom, for example, she only laughed afterward. As of Medvedev, I think he didn't even noticed my slippers.
No one except us knows how everything turned out. We in fact helped Alex to pack in Washington when he was leaving to the World Championships. I've asked him why he didn't take a jacket or shoes? He took only one track suit. And those same slippers. Alex argued "First of all, Mom, there is nowhere to go. Second, I am going to the World Championships. We need to rest and prepare for the games. Then I'll come back to Washington, get the things and rush to Moscow." I tried to convince him, nothing worked.
And you know how it ended. Alex called after the victory and said, "We are taking charter flight to Moscow, the President invited us." I was horrified. "What would you wear? This is the Kremlin! You are not walking in the same slippers through the Spassky Gate, are you?" And my son said "That's ok, I'll hide somewhere in the back, behind other guys." We had no chance to drop him a suit. Good thing that the guys decided to go to Medvedev in game jerseys.
What is the last advice you've heard from your Mom?
"Be more attentive in life. There are many people who would want to use you." She always says this to me, last time I've heard it was about three weeks ago.
Was there an unpleasant experience?
Yes. I am too trusting. Often people use it. After the first season in Washington when I came back to Moscow I met a guy I knew. I've loaned him money and that was the end. The man disappeared. When he showed up again, he behaved as if nothing happened.
Did you stop to communicate with him?
Naturally. Since then I don't loan money to anyone. Though I am asked regularly.
I try to protect Alex from dubious acquaintances, but it doesn't always work. He is a very good person by nature, but I don't want to see this kindness wasted to the right and to left. We talk about it often. Now my the son is popular. He hasn't yet earned ton of money, his new contract with Washington will come into the force only this season. But there are a lot of people trying to get in, to become friends, they tell him how remarkable he is, trying to jump on a bandwagon of his popularity or just to sit in a restaurant at his expense.
What is the best praise you've heard in your life?
The one I've recently heard from my parents, "We are proud of you" [It is nice though to hear it] when you don't expect good words from a man and he starts to praise you. One example would be Hanlon, our former head coach in Washington. At one moment he is shouting at you and tells you that you are doing everything wrong, the very next moment he calls you the best. One could never guess.
The Belorussians, whom he trained, remember Glen as master of the bright imagination. He would make them to think about the medals five minutes a day, for example.
Hanlon is a surprising person. It was a great pleasure to work with him. It is a pity it didn't work out for him in Washington.
Brett Hull once said that he experienced such a hatred towards his coach Keenan that he dreamed to prick out his eyes with the stick. Have you ever experienced anything like this towards your coaches?
No. And Hull didn't either, it's all words. If he really wanted to prick out Keenan's eye, he would do that. You can be offended by the coach, say a phrase with four letter word in your mind, but you'd still listen to him. I've never raised a voice on any coach.
Did ever a newspaper article in the media hurt you?
In general, not once. And I was criticized a lot, by the coaches and the journalists.
When was the last time you felt a real anger?
It is a very rare state for me. Last year there was a crazy moment in St. Petersburg arena. I was sitting there, pulled out a chocolate bar. The guard rushes in. "It's forbidden! Not allowed!"
Makes no sense.
For me too. Human's stupidity.
Did you throw that guard out?
What for? He is doing his job. As good as he can. It was easier to throw out a chocolate bar.
Who of your coaches had the toughest monstrous workout program?
Krikunov. Maybe another one was Bilyaletdinov. What I saw in America, their workout regimens are not even close. That's why I never had any problems in Washington's pre-season training camp.
Were there the drills after which you'd cry?
Cross-country race. 10 kilometers at the time.
Around the training camp in Novogorsk?
No, around the soccer field at the stadium. Everybody was running like crazy, the pulse was over two hundred. Some couldn't finish. Or a purely Krikunov's invention, which I haven't seen anywhere else, three people sit on a tube and you have to pull this "train" forth and back through the court.
What is a tube?
The tube from the truck. It is fastened to the straps. When I tried it for the first time I nearly died, to be honest. It was so hard! I forgot who was sitting on my tube, three years have passed, but these were not a light weighted people, it is a fact.
How did you respond when, after you left the Dynamo, Krikunov blasted you through the newspaper?
On the one hand those remarks hurt, on the other, they motivated me to work more. I have always supported Krikunov, he treated me well. But suddenly everything has changed.
Did Krikunov later repent that?
No. And what should he apologize for? Vladimir Vasilyevich, when emotionally involved, can say anything, that's why he had a nickname "Peasant".
You are going to train with Dynamo before going back to US. No hard feelings, everything is in the past?
I have excellent relations with the new [Dynamo] president, Mikhail Golovkov. And I have no problems with Dynamo fans. They sorted it out and understood me after all. I am glad that everything has ended like this. But three years ago I left to America with a heavy heart. I was upset that I wasn't able to part with the club in good terms.
Which coach is the best at motivating the team?
I always motivate myself. Just seeing the ice can start me up. At the World Championships in Canada we motivated ourselves before the third period. Bykov walked into the locker room and said, "One for all!" And we picked, "All for one!" But even without Bykov we knew, there was no way for retreat.
Did you forgive him that at the Moscow world championships tournament he put you to the fourth line?
I doubt they wanted to humiliate me. But what was behind it had remained a mystery. Was I the worst player on ice?
You are not the fourth line player, are you?
(Irritatedly) I can play on the fifth if needed!
Alex is a gentleman, he does not keep resentment. I am often asked about Moscow's World Championships where he was put on a fourth line. Be sure to write this down, guys, what I am going to tell you now. It doesn't matter if it is the fourth or the first line. What matters is how much ice time you get. When they let you play 15 seconds and then you sit for 10 minutes, what can we expect? The problem is only in that! That situation still doesn't make sense. Alex was so committed to that championship! I tried my best to comfort him, "You have to suffer. You have to go through this too."
If you had a chance to replay one game, what would you have picked?
The semi-final Olympics with the Finns. It is still like a splinter, any time it comes back, you feel bad. We fought the hardest battle for the victory against Canada, but folded against the Finns like milksops.
And you were a milksop as well?
Yes. All of us without exceptions. Probably we decided that we had already won at this Olympics since the Canadians were put behind.
What was the most unpleasant hit that you ever received?
At the world's junior championship I received a blow from behind. Didn't see an opponent. I got a tear in my shoulder joint. Because of that I missed two months in the season when Dynamo became the champion. I still don't know which Canadian player did me a favor.
So you didn't have a chance to take vengeance?
What do you mean 'had no chance'? What about now?
Is there a Washington player whose inner strength surprises you?
We all have a character, all of us. But the most unusual is [Quintin] Laing. He blocks shots, any shots. Sometimes it is impossible even to imagine, is he going to block this one too?
A charismatic fellow. He'd never make into NHL, if not his heroism.
Have you ever met players like him before?
What about you, are you blocking shots without fear?
I wouldn't retreat, would I?
But it hurts.
There wouldn't be anything more painful than that story with my shoulder. The sufferings were inhumane, despite the fact that there was no surgery. It was necessary to keep the shoulder in stationary position. The hand was hung. Could not lie, could not sit.
But what about the case when you broke a tooth, and got another 15 stitches on your face?
It was really nothing.
15 stitches and nothing?!
It was not lethal. They stitched me right in a locker room.
The question which you certainly get all the time; why you don't insert the new tooth?
It is because I have a metal plate there already. If I put in the tooth now and get hit at the same place again, there will be nothing to recover from. I have a special implant tooth that I put on every two weeks to prevent the teeth to grow together.
The knocked out tooth has already became the part of your image. What the girls say, is it cute?
I'll ask tonight…
Kasparaitis nose was broken seven times. How many times was yours?
Do you remember all five cases?
Exactly remember the first one, it was in the game against [Khabarovsk] Amur. Of these five cases, four were in Russia. The Dynamo's physician Valery Konov was setting my nose back. The remarkable doctor. Once Grabovsky got hit with the puck in the face, he stitched him so well that no seam was visible. And he did well for me. Valery Evgenievich is a man with a capital letter, be sure to write it. And the last time my nose was broken was in the game against Montreal.
My son never complains no matter what. It comes from his childhood, you'd never hear him whine. My husband and I were in Washington watching that game when he broke his nose. We were really upset. Alex had such a beautiful smile! Even now, without a tooth, it is still charming! Well, it will heal soon and then we'll take care of it. We were upset when he played for Dynamo and broke his nose, it was not set right. Have to blame the people who were next to Alex at that time. It should've been set right immediately after, using tampons or something else. And then when the son took off the protective mask, someone would hit him with the elbow or stick. I saw it with my own eyes at our arena, he was hit intentionally!
Goalkeeper Eremeev once said, "Ovechkin regularly riled me"
Oh, I know why! I was hitting him in the head with the puck all the time at training. He was very angry at me. "Now", he would say, "I am going to hit you in the head with a guitar. Or you'll have to stand in the net yourself." Let him know, I was not doing it intentionally.
Kasparaitis was pouring ketchup into his coach's shoes. Do you make jokes in your locker room?
At the Worlds my boots were greased with ketchup. As if I was a rookie. On another occasion they smeared my towel with the shaving foam, but I noticed. Then I started doing it myself. I poured ketchup into Khavanov's shoes.
When Bäckström scored the game winning goal in overtime, I foamed his a towel. And on April 1st I got Fedorov. He just had undressed and laid on the massage table when I told him that GM was asking for him. Fedorov got up, dressed and went to ask GM what happened. Semin and I had hysterics!
Was the veteran offended?
No, not at all... I remember Washington Caps public relations manager was leaving his job, so Semin and I took him in the showers in his clothes and turned on the water for a farewell. Then we threw him in a cold bath. In the end we gave him some overalls to get home.
The life brought you together with a person like Brashear. We heard he is also a character?
Awesome man! Very funny! The main thing is he behaves right all the time. Of all tough guys only Larague who left Pittsburgh could match him. Brashear is quiet, no fuss, and is not afraid of anything.
Have you seen Brashear in anger?
It's very hard to rattle him. But whoever succeeds, I won't envy that person.
Which tough guys fight shocked you the most?
When Brashear fought Laraque. The sparks were flying.
At first Laraque had advantage and began pummeling our guy, but suddenly Brashear turned it inside out, struck one blow and it was it. Touche! I can't imagine how people can stand such blows, how they don't become disabled. By the way, do you know that Brashear speaks Russian?
He spent many years in the NHL next to the Russians and learned the language. But it's better not to quote the words he knows in the newspaper, children could read it. When my girlfriend, who came to America, stood at the boards Brashear skated to her and said in broken Russian, "I luv you." This is the only thing that you can print from his speeches.
Kasparaitis used to be called the main freak in the NHL. Who is the chief freak now?
Sean Avery. He is a real clown. He loves to provoke his opponents. Once in the playoffs he stood in front of Brodeaur and did some crazy dancing.
He probably tried to divert the attention. He was waving hands, his stick, serpentined like a worm. Tried everything except maybe sticking out his tongue.
Some of our coaches, who interned with Juventus, couldn't conceal his amazement; the bigger was the star player, the more modest car he had. Who in Washington has the most modest car?
Perhaps Jeffrey Shultz. He drives a strange vehicle that looks like a minivan, but it is two seated and has an open trunk. I've learned that his rattletrap cost eight thousand dollars. And Semin's Mercedes is asking for a car cemetery for a log time. But he is not buying a new one, he is saving.
Who in your team is known as crazy driver? About whom are the legends made?
The legends are made about Semin and me! I normally try to drive carefully. Only once, because I was late to the team's training, I accelerated to 165 miles per hour. You can convert yourself how much it is in kilometers.
[165 MPH is 266 KM/H. This AMG Mercedes has max of 280 KM/H. I was told Ovechkin has S65 AMG]
And the flying ended, the police stopped me near White House.
Did you get a fine?
I've exceeded the speed limit in more than three times, for that in the United States a fine is not enough. They take your license and put you in jail. But I was lucky. The police recognized me and let me go. I gave them 10 tickets that I had with me to the Washington Capitals game.
Did they made you a driver's license already?
If the word "made" carries the same meaning that it is in Russia, then you are mistaken. You can't "make" anything in the States. To get the license I, like everybody else, went through the exam. The same thing, incidentally, was in Moscow. I got the license fair and square.
Did you pass from the first try?
Yes. However, when played for Dynamo, I was not driving. My father was driving me.
My husband Misha and I are together for 37 years already. He worked as a driver at the same place as my father. They both were driving cement trucks. Then my husband started working as a taxi driver. When Alex grew up, all attention was given to the son. In Moscow my husband did not miss my son's single training. He went to the tournaments to other cities. And to Europe and America when Alex started playing for the national junior team. He watched, he monitored, he helped. He knows all the hockey advantages and disadvantages of our son like nobody else. He still corrects him, talks to him after the games.
Our grandfather, my father, is even more amazing! Modest and kind. When Alex was born, he was not even one month old, grandpa moved in with us. His work became a secondary thing, he was babysitting Alex. He fed him, walked him while I was at work. He was taking him to the training, traveled to many games. He carried his duffel bag. Now he is really proud of his grandson. Just couldn't reach Washington yet. He is old.
In our family my husband is the most emotional fan. He sits there, his face turns red, waving his hands. By the way we never sit next to each other during the game, not on the stands or in front of TV. That started when Alex played for Dynamo, and now for Washington. I got used to watch hockey alone. It is almost a superstition now. Our older son Misha usually makes the company for my husband. I watch all games to the end. I can't have the power to watch shootouts, when they start them, I leave immediately. When the Dynamo was winnig the Championship, preparing for shootouts in Togliatti, I didn't watch it. And Alex turned away, only listened to the audience. He did not come to the puck.
What is the most memorable poster about you that you remember?
At the Washington Capitals games I noticed two boys with the plastic eights on their heads. Once they made the poster in Russian, "Can I have your stick?" I gave them my stick, the kids were very happy.
The girls often write on the posters "Alex, will you marry me!"
All the time. Got used to it and don't feel shy anymore. Sometimes after the game, they pull up T-shirts and ask to sign on the chest. I am all for it. Never asked to sign on the passport. When someone asks to sign on the money I always refuse. Bad omen.
A couple of years ago you were asked why do you change your girlfriends so often? Do you remember what you've answered?
I want to live and have fun.
I could not say that for sure! It was all made up. On the contrary I've always hoped that I would have the one and only girl. But for now my record in relationships is 2 years. However I don't want to talk about my personal life. The newspapers write so much nonsense! For example, as soon as I showed up with the designer Lena Lenskaya at the presentation for Bilan, the rumors about our relationship started flowing. Isn't it delirious?
What did you do at Bilan's party?
I congratulated him on winning Eurovision. We met shortly before, when we both were in the jury of the Music Competition.
And why they ask Alex about these girls all the time? Irritating, that they talk so much about it! What is it? Is he old, bad looking? A young guy, it is understandable that he has a lot of friends and girlfriends. Let him meet people. Not a problem. Better than sit with us, the elderly, at home. Family dinner or going with the whole family to the theater, that's fine. We recently went to Satirikon to see the play "Mad Money". A great play. Too bad Raykin was not playing.
Last Saturday you were at a soccer game between Spartacus and CSKA. Do you have any friends between footballers?
I chat with Sychev over the phone. After Euro 2008 congratulated him with the bronze medals. The guys were awesome, made people happy. And when I was in Sochi a couple of weeks ago, I met Pavlyuchenko.
He was on vacation, and I was invited to Olympic games presentation.
When you were left in America with your older brother, how did you manage house keeping and home cooking?
We couldn't cook a meal. Once we tried to fry potatoes and we almost burned the kitchen along with the house. In a panic we rushed to call our parents. It was already after midnight in Moscow, we woke up everybody. My brother and I will never make a living as a culinary specialists.
The calls after midnight about the culinary advice is a normal thing for us. Once I came to Washington and noticed the black spot on the floor. "What's that?!" I asked. "Oh, nothing serious..." Turned out they tried to fry potatoes and almost burned the house. They apparently tried to rub it off without success. They call often, very often. "Mom, do I cook the meat right?" "It's correct, Alex. Good boy". Then they understood that it's too hard to learn to cook. They can only do the most elementary cooking. Like the omelette. Alex has a big deck and they bought a barbecue grill. Now they can cook meat. It is much tastier. And they cook fish there as well.
When we come to visit Alex in America, my primary task is to prepare pelmeni, as much as possible.
Two-three thousand pieces. I make them by hand and I leave them in a freezer. After our departure Alex feeds the guests with pelmeni. But after a while he calls me in Moscow,
- "Mom, when are you coming back?"
- "What happened son, you've run out of pelmeni?"
- "Don't worry, we'll be back soon...".
About the calls; we have an old tradition. Wherever he goes, he calls us exactly three hours prior to the game. As he gets into the bus he calls, "Mom, I am going." For his entire career there never was the case that he would not call us. We usually don't go to bed at the night and wait for his call.
Our older son, Mikhail, plans to continue his education in America. He tried three times to pass the exams, but it didn't work out. He wanted to enter not into the college, but into the university. There will be the fourth attempt. At present he works as manager for the women's basketball team in Washington.
To what you haven't become accustomed in America?
To the measured way of life. No one hurries anywhere. America is a very convenient country. For example, to purchase the airplane ticket you don't waste time trying to find an office that sells the tickets. You just visit the web site and buy it over the internet with a credit card. In US you generally can buy anything over the Internet.
Do you remember encounter with the victims of the hurricane Katrina?
Certainly. Nobody was forcing us to come to this meeting, but the entire team showed up. We wanted to somehow support these unlucky people who lost everything. In Washington they settled them in the basketball school. To look at all of this was extremely hard. I experienced similar feelings when I was visiting sick children. It is especially stressful when you see how they are treated in America and how they are treated in Russia. There are enormous hospitals built for the children, they cover all their needs. And in Russia? Two years ago I was visiting a small hospital near Dynamo subway station. To compare it with any American hospital is like to compare the sky and the earth.
What kind of fish bite you in Florida?
It was a fly-fish. It leaves burns like a jellyfish. It was very hot. Semin and I went into the ocean. Exactly where we went was a note "No swimming". As a result we both got the burns. My leg was stung bad but now everything is ok, I didn't even get a scar.
Was it hard to fire your own agent?
It actually really was a difficult moment for me last year. It's hard to say "You're fired." It was especially hard in front of Susanne. She did a lot for me. But I did not use the lawyers for that, didn't write the letters. I said everything looking right into the eyes.
What is that you don't like the most?
The lies and the boredom.
Do you meet boring people often?
More frequently than you think…
One well-known designer said, "I'd never buy an antique furniture and white socks". What would you never buy?
A helicopter. Many millionaires buy them in order to save time and not to stay in the traffic jams, but to me these means of transportation don't give any confidence. Way too often those helicopters go down. Anyway, I even I haven't earn that much money to buy it.
Could you stay in America forever?
No. It is awesome to play hockey there. But I want to live in Russia. I definitely feel more comfortable there, improved my language. But in the first season I was so homesick, I wanted to go back to Moscow so bad. I couldn't wait for the day when I'd go back. I remember I got into the plane and they served the soup with the piece of Borodinsky bread. As I smelled it I felt almost at home!
We will not stay in America forever. Alex will give you the same answer. We are the Russians of Mordvin blood. And we want to live only here.
But I must say that the Americans treat my son wonderfully. In Washington in the stands everybody knows who I am, whose Mom I am. After Alex scores a goal everybody turns around and looks at me. They'll shake my hands. It moves you to tears. They always bring you some souvenirs, recently someone brought homemade cookies to the game, they ask to make pictures together. Everybody is very kind. After this summer in Toronto Alex got a bunch of trophies and Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty arranged a chic reception in honor of Ovechkin. He handed him a symbolic key to the city. I am very happy that Alex is so loved in America. But I would like to say about another Mayor, [about Mayor of Moscow] Yuri Mikhailovich Luzhkov.
Few people are aware that he was helping Alex. I had never told it to the journalists. Our acquaintance with Luzhkov started in 1990s, when he began to support women's basketball Dynamo team where I was the president of the club. There were different situations, but in all matters related to the hockey future of Alex, I was always asking for an advice from Luzhkov. And he'd always give us the correct advice. When in 2004 Alex was chosen as number one pick, the first person I called was Yury Mikhailovich. And after Alex signed the contract with Washington I've sent the fax to Luzhkov. Thanking him on behave of our entire family.
You won't believe it but Alex often hears harsh words from me. I am such kind of a woman, even if he will play great I won't overpraise him. I would say, "Not bad, Alex". I don't want him to relax. When he was little I only spoke about his errors. I am myself a coach, and I am a harsh coach. Though I really want to scream, "Alex, you are awesome!"
I am a strong, strong-willed person. I can restrain my emotions when it's tough. My kids will never see my tears. Only when I am alone, I can cry, like any mother...