From our blog's field reporter Emily:
We're hopping into the Wayback Machine to March of 2007, as the Swedish media juggernaut Aftonbladet dispatched a reporter to Washington to take a look at Nicklas Backstrom's new hometown. He met with team owner Ted Leonsis, former Caps head coach Glen Hanlon and also with a hopeful, somewhat impatient, and oh-so-young Alexander Ovechkin. He wrote a really nice article that captures a little of Ovi's passion and a lot of the spirit of the Capitals as they focused on the rebuild. And I love his tiny little good-natured dig at Americans and their lack of umlauts.
Sportbladet Mats Wennerholm in conversation with Washington's star Alexander Ovechkin. Photo: Jimmy WIXTRÖM
By Mats Wennerholm, Aftonbladet, 2007-03-12:
Here is your new home, Bäckis. And the entire Washington Capitals are waiting. We have barely had time to mention that we are from Sweden before the superstar Alexander Ovechkin asks the question that all of Washington wants to be answered:
"Backstrom will come next season? Tell him we need him."
We went to Washington to describe Nicklas Bäckström's new home and we were met by a club who really dreams to get the Swede next season.
It may sound like an exaggeration.
But it is not.
The Washington Capitals are building for the future and already have two of the biggest talents in the entire NHL, Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
Nicklas Bäckström - or Backstrom as he is called in a country where there never was a few dots over a and o - is the third link in the future of the franchise where the goal is to win the Stanley Cup.
Alexander Ovechkin is the greatest poster name in the entire NHL this season. But he is not a spoiled diva and he has an eye on the world outside. And especially the hockey world that belongs to the Washington Capitals.
"Yes, I was there when Washington drafted Backstrom and I was the one who pulled the sweater over his head. This was the only time we met. But I have followed him and think he could be ready any time from now. I really hope that he will be here next season. But is he doing well?", Ovechkin's almost pleading.
It is easy to understand. Washington is already gone from Stanley Cup playoffs this season, and Ovechkin knows what is missing, a real star is in desperate need of a skilled center. Make an NHL quiz and ask who are Kris Beech, Brian Sutherby and Jiri Novotny and only the most avid NHL geeks could answer. But this is Washington's current lack of quality centers.
We walk down the narrow corridor leading from the ice to the dressing room inside the Verizon Center. Washington's home ground is located inside the city center and only a few blocks to the White House and all the sights. The players come here in their luxury cars, turning down into the underground garage and take a special elevator directly up to the locker room.
Most of them live in the suburb of Arlington where the newly built training rink is located. A unique creature that has been built on top of a seven-story parking garage right next to a large shopping center. The players just need to drive in their cars and on up to the seventh floor and basically get straight out on the ice. It is already considered to be the most elegant fitness facilities in the entire NHL.
But back to the hall in the Verizon Center. The walls are decorated with pictures of the former Washington stars and there is unusually large number of familiar faces for a club that is hardly known to have had a lot of Swedish stars. A young Calle Johansson in the battle with an opponent, the cheering Ulf Dahlén. And also the current Swedish federation captain, Bengt-Ake Gustafsson's big poster in the hallway. And his young look shows how quickly the years go by.
While we are studying Bengt-Ake's babyface, the door accross the hall opens and Washington coach Glen Hanlon joins us and says, "He is one of the best and most respected players who were here in Washington. There you see, when you see him hanging there. One of the best centers that the team had."
How about another good one?
Hanlon: Yes. We hope so. I would've liked to have Nicklas Backstrom already this season, but he chose to remain in Sweden. I can understand him and maybe he did right. It's a big shift to get to the NHL, especially for a nineteen year-old from Europe. But I hope he comes here next season."\
Do you have a plan for him if he comes?
Hanlon: Of course. He won't come here to play on the fourth line. He'll get a lot ice time and will play with the best.
You mean Alexander Ovechkin?
Hanlon: Well, I'm more well-contained in that he will play with Alexander Semin. Both he and Ovechkin are left forwards. As I see it today, he would fit perfectly with Semin. [23-year-old Alexander Semin had a very good season and has 33 goals so far, only six goals behind Ovechkin. Semin debuted in Washington as a 19-year-old in the 2003-04 season, but didn't thrive and returned to Russia.] That's why I can understand why Backstrom stayed in Sweden this season. Semin was perhaps a bit too young. He was homesick, he was not ready. But I believe and hope that Backstrom will be ready to take the step in the next season.
What can you say about Swedish players?
Hanlon: I have only positive experiences. I was a goalie in Vancouver for many years and got to know Thomas Gradin, Lars Molin, Lasse Lindgren. All three of them are amazing hockey players and good teammates.
Washington's majority owner Ted Leonsis arrives. An IT billionaire who stands for the new NHL, and many want to see him in a leading position for the entire NHL. He constantly tries to promote hockey and make the NHL clubs as open as the Washington Capitals.
We meet him down at the locker room after another game loss, but just as open and friendly as always. And whenever we mention Nicklas Backstrom he is shining up even more.
"A fantastic player. In my eyes he is the best player in the world not playing in the NHL. I really hope he comes here next year. We'll take good care of him," said Leonsis.
When Ovechkin came to Washington did he stay at home of your general manager George McPhee?
Leonsis: Yes, we care about our players. Ovechkin was often at my house and had dinner with us at the beginning. We will take as good care of Backstrom. We want nothing more than that he'll like it here. I have a Swedish wife, her grandparents emigrated from Dalarna. It's not so far from Backstrom's home, isn't it?"
Oh yeah, it is not. The table is set for you, Bäckis.
A few notes on this article - I was looking through the Swedish press for stories on Nicky's olympic spot, and found this really nice piece. While yes, it is focussed on Nick, I really liked Ovi's attitude and can't pass up that picture either. Since they will be paired for most of their pro careers, I think this piece works for the Ovi archives as well.
Reporting live from Washington DC, I'm Emily.