Star in good mood upon his return to D.C.
Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin took to the rink again at Kettler Iceplex on Tuesday. Fresh off a long flight Monday from Russia, where he spent the NHL lockout with his hometown club, Dynamo Moscow, Ovechkin was back on the ice with nine other teammates as the team prepares for training camp later this week.
It has been a whirlwind few months for Ovechkin. He scored 19 goals and had 21 assists in 31 games with Dynamo. He got to play in front of friends and family for a few months. On New Year's Eve he proposed to his girlfriend, Russian tennis star Maria Kirilenko. By Jan.?2 she was in Australia preparing for this month's Australian Open, and Ovechkin was left home waiting for final word on the status of negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. It didn't look good at the time.
"To be honest with you, no. I thought that I'm gonna stay the end of the season and play in Russia," Ovechkin said during a meeting with local media. "You can ask any guy in Russia what they think, and they're gonna say the same thing. It was hard time for us, for some of us, but it's over. I don't know why we do it."
Ovechkin was in a lighthearted mood as he spoke. He donned a T-shirt that translated from Russian as "What, am I really the prettiest one here again?" He cracked "not really" when asked whether he had missed the local reporters. Later, when asked about his engagement, he took the tongue-in-cheek approach:
"I feel normal. She's not with me right now -- she's in Australia -- but it's a good feeling, you know?" Ovechkin said. "It's not that feeling anymore when you can do whatever you want. You have a girl with a tennis racquet, and she can hit you."
There was a report Tuesday from Russian publication Sovetsky Sport that quoted a Dynamo team official as saying Ovechkin returned to Washington early because he is nursing "a minor injury." That wasn't apparent at Tuesday's informal workout. Ovechkin did leave the ice shortly before his teammates but had gone through the entire skate without incident.
"Excited to see him. Glad he's in one piece," Caps coach Adam Oates said a few hours before the Sovetsky Sports report. "Playing over there, it's different hockey. But glad he's back and can't wait for everybody to come in."
The other Caps players who were at Kettler on Tuesday included a few holdovers -- forwards Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Mike Ribeiro and defensemen John Carlson and Mike Green -- and some new arrivals, including goalie Braden Holtby and defensemen Jack Hillen and John Erskine. Center Nicklas Backstrom was at the rink but is injured and did not participate in the workout. All were excited to be back home again. The expectation is that local hockey fans are eager to have them back, too, after a 113-day lockout.
"I'm just hopeful that we get going here real soon and that everyone is as happy as we are to be back," Washington general manager George McPhee said. "We've all missed this. Nobody wanted this [lockout], so we're here and ready to go, and we expect that our fans will be, too. We have phenomenal fans."