Ovechkin talks about importance of Olympic torch
After it was announced on Thursday that Alex Ovechkin would become the first Russian torch bearer for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Adam Oates was asked if he understands just how much Ovechkin means to his country.
"I guess I do,” said Oates, who visited Ovechkin in Moscow this summer. “When I was over there, the president called him. [Barack] Obama doesn't call me too often."
Last month, Ovechkin was invited to participate in the torch lighting that will take place on Sunday in Olympia, Greece.
With the Caps opening their 2013-14 season two nights later in Chicago, there was obvious concern about how their 28-year-old captain would be able to get from Washington to Olympia and back in less than 48 hours.
Here’s a rough itinerary:
Ovechkin will play in Friday night’s 7 p.m. preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center and immediately following the game he’ll be whisked to Washington Dulles International Airport, along with his IMG agent, David Abrutyn, Caps senior director of communications Sergey Kocharov and digital content producer James Heuser.
The Ovechkin contingent will take a private jet from Dulles to Kalamata International Airport in Greece, a nine-hour flight that requires a stop to refuel.
There is a seven-hour time difference in Greece, which means if Ovechkin’s plane lands in Greece sometime around at 10 a.m. Eastern time, it will be about 5 p.m. in Greece.
Ovechkin plans to spend one night in Greece, participate in the Olympic torch run on Sunday, then return back to D.C., leaving about 3 p.m. local time, with a projected arrival at Dulles of 9:17 p.m. on Sunday.
It is unclear who will be picking up the tab for the weekend trip, which is believed to carry a price tag in the six-figure range, but Ovechkin thanked Coca-Cola, Sochi 2014 and the Capitals for making his dream a reality. Ovechkin shot an Olympic commercial for Coca-Cola over the summer.
“I'm pretty happy and very excited,” Ovechkin said after practice on Thursday. “I've been that way since I get the news that they invite me.
“It's pretty hard to do that because of the schedule and that kind of stuff, try to find a plane. My agent did a great job working on it. It's very big for me to be the first guy.
“I’m proud to be a Russian guy and it means a lot for my country and for me and my people.”
Ovechkin said it is “huge” for him to represent his country in the 2014 Winter Games, which will be held in Sochi, Russia. His mother, Tatyana, won Olympic gold medals in women’s basketball in the 1976 Games in Montreal and the 1980 Games in Moscow.
“You can ask any guy who's been in the Olympics,” he said. “It's an unbelievable time. My mom was an Olympic champion in Moscow back in the day and she told me it was unbelievable stuff. Everybody was very excited, people were happy.”
Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said he and his teammates are happy for Ovechkin and want him to go to Greece, even if it means a tired captain for the Caps’ season opener. The Caps have the day off on Sunday and will hit the ice for their final practice before the regular season on Monday.
“It’s an honor for him and it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially with the Olympic Games being in Russia,” Backstrom said. “He knows how to handle those long trips by now. He’ll be fine.”
“He might have a little jet lag, but big picture, we let our players play in the Olympics for a reason,” Oates said. “It's obviously a unique thing and it's very risky, but we let him do it, so globally for hockey, it's a great thing. It really is, and our team's got to survive that just like you've got to survive everything else."
Oates said he’s gained an appreciation for European players that he never had as a player in the 1990s.
"Early in my career, I didn't,” he said. “Being a Canadian kid growing up, all you think about is the NHL and at first, you didn't quite understand the European players' views on it.
“But as you get older, you kind of understand it more. It's obviously huge for his country, and there's a huge responsibility for them, even though they're over here, their country's obviously very important. And as you get older, you do understand that."