Capitals’ quiet man Semin speaks hockey loud and clear

Alexander Semin (right) navigates the puck past Alex Ovechkin (center) and Mike Knuble as the Capitals practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. The Capitals meet the New York Rangers for the second time in three years starting Wednesday.Alexander Semin (right) navigates the puck past Alex Ovechkin (center) and Mike Knuble as the Capitals practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. The Capitals meet the New York Rangers for the second time in three years starting Wednesday.
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Alexander Semin is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a set of pads and a Capitals jersey. And that’s exactly how he likes it.

Semin allows only glimpses of his personality to get out, mostly spending his time scoring goals and picking up the occasional offensive-zone hooking penalty.

“I’m just an ordinary person just like everybody else,” Semin said through an interpreter this week. “The only difference is I’m out there on the ice and that’s it.”

There’s more to Semin than 28 goals and 26 assists this season, but it doesn’t matter much to him that Caps fans understand him personally, as he says repeatedly, “I’d just rather talk about hockey.” With the playoffs beginning Wednesday night, his focus is on the New York Rangers and trying to score his first postseason goal in two years.

But Semin does sometimes let flashes of an off-ice personality shine through a seemingly cold exterior.

ROD LAMKEY JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Capitals wing Alexander Semin scored 28 goals this season - second on the team to Alex Ovechin's 32 - but still was given pointers from recently acquired veteran Jason Arnott on playing with more discipline. Semin is looking for his first postseason goal in two years.

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ROD LAMKEY JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES Capitals wing Alexander Semin scored 28 goals ... more >

“At times he shows his personality. He’s a guy that likes to have fun and stuff like that,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said. “Around the teammates he’s joking around, he’s very personable and he’s just one of the guys.”

Fans got to see one of those atypical public moments April 2. After the Caps’ overtime victory over the Sabres, Semin picked up 5-year-old William Shannon and held him during the shirts-off-their-backs ceremony. William, who is suffering from leukemia, practiced with the team earlier in the week, and Semin just wanted to do something nice.

“Doing something small like that just to make him happy, why not?” Semin said. “I like kids, and I always like kids because all the kids are our future.”

Speaking outside the locker room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex after an hourlong practice preparing for New York, Semin didn’t want anything to do with discussing his life outside the rink. But that’s nothing new; his teammates say Semin is at times guarded and quiet when not with fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Semyon Varlamov.

“I think the language thing’s a little bit difficult for him at times,” veteran winger Mike Knuble said. “To be honest, I haven’t been to dinner with him much.”

As far as communicating with teammates in English, Semin said he has “absolutely no problem with that.” Naturally, he means communicating about hockey - the universal language that allows him to fulfill a major role with the Caps despite not feeling comfortable enough with English to talk to reporters without an interpreter.

But Semin is fluent in the language of hockey, having watched Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov growing up - “When I was young I could never dream that I could play with [Fedorov] on the same line,” he said. And while the 27-year-old winger often looks disinterested, he’s hardly that.

“I like the excitement, I like scoring goals, the fans, everything,” Semin said. “I’ve been living hockey my entire life.”

With hockey being much of Semin’s life, lack of success in the playoffs has drawn criticism. He has gone 14 postseason games without a goal, but if he’s feeling the pressure, he’s not letting anyone see it - as usual.

“He’s pretty quiet. He handles pressure in his own way and doesn’t really reveal it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If there is, then it’ll make him more determined. If there’s not, hopefully he’s relaxed and can score a few.”

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