It was a few years ago when the Washington Capitals started rebuilding the hockey capital, encouraging their fans to “rock the red.” Led by the core of “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom – the team was hyped to compete for the Cup for years to come. Alex Ovechkin was viewed as positively as anyone in the NHL.
At some point it all started to change. The “Young Guns” were not so young anymore, and even lost one of their musketeers. Alex Ovechkin has – fairly or unfairly – become more of a villain in the eyes of a lot in the media and amongst fans. And the Washington Capitals are in search of a new identity yet again, after a major – and an overdue – overhaul in their front office after the end of last season.
Alex Ovechkin is entering his 10th season in the NHL. And over the summer he has taken some time to reflect on the decade gone.
“Of course I thought about it,” Ovechkin told me this week. “Time flies and you stop for a minute to look back, and you realize that time flies so quickly. Too quickly. Just the other day I was remembering conversations I had with Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov who were telling us that everything is going to happen quickly. And we were all dismissive - ‘It’s OK.’ Now I remember those words and realize how right they were. This is going to be my tenth season in the NHL. And of course you think about everything and start reassessing.”
The run and gun offence of Bruce Boudreau’s Capitals was exciting and addictive. Alex Ovechkin was breaking records. When that type of hockey failed to in the postseason, a drastic change to Dale Hunter and mostly unwatchable Hunter Hockey created an illusion that the Capitals were closer to the Holy Grail, yet the end result was still the same. For Ovechkin, the Bourdeau era Capitals was probably the best team he played for.
“I believe the team we had at the time was one of the best ones we have had,” Ovechkin said. “I am not taking this season into account because we haven’t started it yet. Of course as that team at times we were unlucky, at times the lack of experience showed. But that team was just great.”
The upcoming season will be a test for Ovechkin, who performed well under offensive-minded coaches like Boudreau and Adam Oates, and struggled a little under defense-first coaches like Dale Hunter. Does he have any special expectations for Barry Trotz’s hockey?
“Not really, I just need to play to the best of my abilities. Show the best I can do.”
And as for the expectations for the team this season?
“You know, I am not even thinking about who is expecting what of us,” Ovechkin said with confidence. “We as a team only have one goal in mind – to play the best hockey we can play. As long as we do that we will be winning.”
Ovechkin will still be the team captain. And this is something that is still important to him.
“I do have a lot more experience of being a captain. I also have my assistants who have also been in various situations and know what needs to be done. The experience I have gained is invaluable – from talking to other people, talking to other players, talking to other team captains. There’s also the unforgettable experience of being the captain of the national team that won the World Championship. You keep all of these moments and experiences in your head and use it to be a captain.”
He will also remain as outspoken as he has been, whether in the media, on Twitter or Instagram.
“I am who I am. This is me. Criticism will always be present. You just need to ignore it.”