Joel Ward practices with kids of Fort Dupont
It took only a few minutes for Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin to place Russia’s loss to Finland in the men’s Olympic hockey quarterfinals into perspective.
That’s when he learned his 62-year-old father, Mikhail, had undergone heart surgery three nights earlier.
“As soon as I found out that he’s in the hospital and he’s feeling not that good and he could be dying I just forget the game and go to [the hospital] and spend time with him,” Ovechkin said Tuesday after his first post-Olympic practice with the Capitals.
Ovechkin said his father was well enough on Tuesday to fly from Sochi to Moscow with Ovechkin’s mother and brother, where he’ll be re-examined.
“I just talked to him this morning and he’s getting better,” Ovechkin said. “That’s probably the most thing I worry about right now.”
Mikhail Ovechkin was admitted into a Sochi hospital on Sunday, Feb. 16, while Russia was playing a preliminary game against Slovakia. Ovechkin said he understood his family’s decision to keep the news from him until after Russia was eliminated from the tournament on Wednesday night.
“It’s a situation where all the Russian people want to get success in the Olympics,” Ovechkin said. “I didn’t know for three days.”
Ovechkin, 28, said all of Russia hinged its hopes of a gold medal on the men’s hockey team and he apologized for scoring just one goal on 24 shots in five games. Ovechkin leads the Capitals and the NHL with 40 goals.
“First of all, I want to say sorry to the fans because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent your country in the Olympics and we didn’t get good results,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t get any medal. The fans, the media, all the people who support Russia, was upset, but life goes on.
“Right now we’re here and we’re going to do our best to make the playoffs and try to win the Cup.”
The Capitals return to action Thursday night when they visit the Florida Panthers. With 23 games to play, they are one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings but need to climb over three teams to reach the post-season for a seventh straight season.
“I think the Washington Capitals have to improve because we’ve been to playoffs [six] years and we lose in the first round or the second round. That’s our goal, for the organization to move forward.
“We’re going to fight and we’ll see what’s going to happen.
We have such a good group of guys who can handle the pressure, who can fight through it and we’re going to do it.”
As for the criticism that seems to follow Ovechkin everywhere he goes, he says he’s ready to accept it and placed blame on no one but himself.
“It’s just a situation where it’s my job to score goals and I didn’t score lots of goals there,” he said. “I scored one on my first shot and that’s it.
“Of course, it’s the most criticism I’m going to have, but I’m going to criticize me because I had chances. I had moments to score goals. I play with good players out there, but I didn’t [score]. Blame on me. Nothing I can say.”
Overall, Ovechkin said he was proud of the way Sochi presented the Olympics, even though the Games got off to a rocky start, with tweets of stray dogs, toilet troubles, and broken hotel lights.
“The Games was unbelievable,” Ovechkin said. “The atmosphere was great. The Olympic village was unbelievable. Toilets was working, lights was working, everything was working. It’s been great. You probably have one time in your life to be a player and be in your home and see all this kind of stuff and it was great.”
For Ovechkin, this marks his third time returning home from an Olympic tournament without a medal. He says he’ll rely on the support of his Capitals teammates and coaching staff to deal with the disappointment.
“Vancouver was a tough loss and this is a really tough loss for me and for Russia,” he said. “But I’m almost 30 and I have to handle it and I have to fight through it. … That’s why we play in a team sport and not an individual sport.”
With 23 games separating the Caps from either missing the playoff or making them for a seventh straight season, Ovechkin said the pressure is going to be on the Capitals to have a finish similar to last season, when they used a 15-2-2 run to get into the post-season.
“I think everybody has to step it up another level of hockey,” he said. “Everybody has to play their best. You can’t lose five games right away and have to order tickets to vacation somewhere else.
“I’m pretty sure this organization is not ready for that and we’re going to fight and we’re going to do our best.”