Alex Ovechkin returns to Capitals following death of father
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Alex Ovechkin is back with the Washington Capitals, eager to play hockey again while he and his family are still mourning the death of his father, Mikhail.
Ovechkin missed four games over the past week to fly to Moscow. He went straight from the airport to the team's practice facility Wednesday after landing to take part in practice with an eye on returning to game action as soon as Thursday.
"Obviously it was a hard week mentally, physically," Ovechkin said after skating for roughly 45 minutes to get his conditioning back. “It was probably toughest situation I’ve been through my whole NHL career. But it’s life, and we move on.”
Ovechkin thanked the Capitals for their moment of silence dedicated to Mikhail prior to a game last week and for the support shown by members of the organization and fans. He said he got the chance to speak to his dad by video call before his death at age 71 last week and expects his mother and brother to visit him in the U.S. soon.
"We try to do the best we can in that kind of hard moment," Ovechkin said.
In his hard moment, Ovechkin wanted badly to get back on the ice. After only skating once during his absence, the 37-year-old captain said this season felt like training camp.
But there also wasn't time to waste. The Capitals went 0-4 during Ovechkin's absence and have lost five in a row in regulation for the first time in nine years.
“I just want to come back right away, put my mind in a different position,” Ovechkin said. "We’re struggling right now, so I just want to try to do my best to bring energy, bring something to the team.”
Having been outscored 20-8 during the franchise's longest skid since 2014 — the previous time the Capitals missed the playoffs — they'll gladly take the lift that comes with Ovechkin returning.
“He’s our leading scorer,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He helps in a lot of different areas: offensively, power play, leadership, size, physicality, presence, so there’s a lot of things that Alex brings to the table. I’m glad he was able to get home and be with his family, and we’re certainly glad to have him back.”
Tears welled in Ovechkin's eyes when talking about his dad getting him into the sport, being along for his journey to second on the NHL goal-scoring list and getting to share a day with the Stanley Cup together in the summer of 2018 after he and Washington won it after several years of disappointment.
“He give me everything: all his health, all his time,” Ovechkin said. "He traveled with me all over the world and (was) at every practice when he had a chance.”
Mikhail Ovechkin was a familiar face at practices for years until his health kept him back in Russia. Longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom and other Capitals players remembered Ovechkin's dad for his smile and support around the rink, even though his English was limited.
“He had a great sense of humor," Ovechkin said. "Even when he don’t understand people, he always tried to ask something. But, yeah, the people who know him, they’re going to miss his smile. They’re going to miss his energy.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press