ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin’s balancing act between the Washington Capitals and the Olympics in Russia could get a whirlwind test in a few weeks.
Russia would like to have Ovechkin carry the torch after it is lit in Greece on Sept. 29. That would be a tight fit — because it’s only two days before the Capitals open the regular season at Chicago.
“We just have to find a plane,” Ovechkin said Tuesday.
Ovechkin said his agent is working with the organizers of the Sochi Games to figure out the logistics. He joked he could “take some medicine” to sleep while flies back and forth across the Atlantic. It helps that the Capitals aren’t scheduled to practice on Sept. 29, but he’ll want to be back in time join his teammates on the ice the next day for their final skate before travelling to Chicago.
“It’s a huge honour for me,” Ovechkin said. “I’m very proud the Russian federation asked me to do that. … It’s only a once in your life opportunity to carry the torch and represent your country.”
The Sochi Olympics have stoked a passion in Ovechkin — he has said he would have played in them even if the NHL hadn’t worked out a deal to interrupt the season — but he was diplomatic about his dual goals as he reunited with his Capitals teammates ahead of Thursday’s opening of training camp. He wants to win the first Olympic title for Russian players since a “Unified Team” of former Soviet republics took gold in Albertville in 1992, and he wants to win a Stanley Cup with Washington after several seasons after early-round flameouts in the playoffs.
Ovechkin said the Olympics are “huge,” but he stressed that the Capitals are important as well. As far as trying to peak for both events — Olympics in February and NHL playoffs starting in April — he said he’ll have to be smart and listen to his coaches and trainer.
There’s been speculation whether Ovechkin would return to Russia for good to play for Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League. Countryman Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the NHL in July when he left $77 million on his New Jersey Devils contract to go to the KHL. Ovechkin would make a similar financial hit: His 13-year, $124 million contract with the Capitals runs through 2021.
“The answer is, like, I’m here, I have a contract,” Ovechkin said. “It was very enjoyable to hear president of Dynamo and GM wants me to sign, and be honest with you, I love Dynamo, it’s my first team and I play (there) when it was (NHL) lockout. But I have a contract. So I have to play here and I respect my teammates, I respect my fans, and all that kind of stuff. That’s about it.”
Ovechkin said he’s recovered from the hairline fracture in his left foot, suffered when he blocked a shot in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers. He played in Game 7 the next night and represented Russia for one game at the world championship before the injury was diagnosed.
He’s also looking forward to a full season under Capitals coach Adam Oates, who rallied the club to a playoff berth after a horrific start in a lockout-shortened campaign.
“Last year we have only like a half-season,” Ovechkin said. “And you could see the success we have at the end.”