Winston Churchill once said of Russia, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” This quote is often applied to their players as well. Jingoistic hockey pundits call Russian players lazy and mysterious. They’re also accused of playing when they feel like it, and shutting down when they’re faced with adverse situations. While it’s unfair to apply this to all Russians equally, Alexander Ovechkin’s been livin’ the stereotype this season. Between being accused of not putting forth effort to get former coach Bruce Boudreau canned to being accused of being unhappy that Dale Hunter was limiting his ice-time, Ovie hasn’t exactly gotten the best press this season.
Sure, it seems like he responded to Hunter’s coaching towards the end of the year, picking up the offensive pace. But in clutch situations, where an extra goal would have been helpful, Hunter kept Ovechkin on the bench to help protect the lead. Why? Ovie isn’t the best at defensive hockey. Offensively he’s outstanding, but under Boudreau and Hunter both, defense was shoved to the forefront leaving no room for run and gun hockey.
In an interview with Stephen Whyno of the Washington Post, Ovechkin and a few other Caps discussed Hunter’s playing style and minute-limiting that went on. Troy Brouwer specifically chalked it up to the style of game that Hunter wanted the Caps to play, but Ovechkin had a — shall we say, interesting? — philosophy.
“I know my role and I know exactly when I’m going to be on the ice and when I’m not going to be on the ice,” Ovechkin said. “There was bad feelings but nothing you can do; everybody try everybody do their best.”
Asked Monday if he liked to play that kind of hockey, Ovechkin didn’t exactly just nod.
“It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, because he’s my coach and I have to listen,” the captain said. “How he said, you have to be a plumber so I was a plumber.”
Wow. Feel the excitement from the Capitals’ captain, being asked to do what the coach thinks is best for the team as a whole. Sure, there’s frustration when you go fron 25 minutes a night to 13, but as a leader in the locker room, you need to do what you’re asked like everyone else does. Lead by example.
“I don’t know who’s going to be the coach next year but the leaders in this group have to be together and don’t look, you know. … I don’t know how to explain better, but sometimes you don’t have to be jealous,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was a jealous situation for us, but sometimes you just have to be a group together.”
Ovechkin was then asked to clarify his comment about jealousy.
“I don’t want to say persons, I don’t want to say situations, but sometimes you just know like, some guys, if you didn’t play well they just look at you like, you know,” he said. “Of course, you can see it, I can see it and somebody else gonna see it and it’s not the way we gonna win the game.”
Jealousy? To whom is Ovechkin referring? Is he saying that he and some other offensive forwards whose ice time was cut were jealous of the other guys out there who started to shoulder more of the burden? What business does a captain have of being jealous of other guys on his team and their playing times? Is he upset at the glances of teammates when he doesn’t perform up to par? Ovechkin is more than likely used to getting his way and being allowed to do whatever he needs to do on the ice, and now that’s he being forced to adapt to a new system like everyone else — and is doing badly — will the others on the team not get frustrated?
This is all speculation, obviously — no one has a solid clue who Ovie is talking about. He’s off to the IIHF World Championships, and right now his mind probably isn’t on the Capitals or last season. But if Ovechkin doesn’t want to be lumped in with the stereotype of Russian hockey players in North America, he should probably stop living up to the stereotype in the first place.