- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Among the things that made Alexander Ovechkin such a sought-after commodity during the NHL’s amateur draft in June was his reputation as a strong team player, one who took an active interest in playing both ends of the ice and watching after his teammates.

The Washington Capitals, who took the left wing with the first pick overall, believe they know where the 19-year-old budding star received that foundation: from his parents.

Caps general manager George McPhee and Gleb Chistyakov, the club’s Russian scout, were attending a game in Moscow last week, watching Ovechkin play for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Super League. The player’s parents invited the Washington representatives to their home for dinner after the game.

“We spent a wonderful evening there,” McPhee said after his return. “They could not have been more genuine, warm, loving people.

“We arrived, and they told us to get out of our business suits and provided us with sweats and told us to relax. We took saunas, went swimming, then had about a three-hour dinner with the family. Mr. Ovechkin toasted us, then about 30 minutes later Mrs. Ovechkin toasted us and both welcomed us to their home.”



Mikhail Ovechkin is a retired world-class soccer player who now coaches that sport for Dynamo Moscow. Tatiana Ovechkin played on the Russian national basketball team, won two Olympic gold medals and nine world championships and is now head of the national women’s basketball program.

“They seemed to be very excited to have us there — I guess as excited as we were amazed and pleased by the gracious hospitality we were receiving,” McPhee said. “They had a lot of questions for us, about the NHL, about Washington, about different players. Alex was there taking part in everything, and we told them that personally and on behalf of the Washington Capitals we were honored to be in their home.

“All the good things we’ve heard about Alexander, it’s obvious where he gets those qualities,” McPhee said. “His desire to compete and excel, you can see that in his parents. These are the people who make up winning teams, winning programs, and we assured him that [team owner Ted] Leonsis would look after their son.”

The general manager said the visit to the Ovechkins’ country house “was purely social,” that there was no contract discussion. The wing and the Caps have not started to negotiate a contract, waiting for new agreements between the league and its union, and the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. The NHL season remains suspended because of the labor dispute.

McPhee spent a week in Europe checking on some Caps prospects, including Ovechkin.

“You sometimes forget how young he is, and you marvel at how well he is doing playing against grown men,” McPhee said, referring to competition in the top Russian league, which is even stronger this season with an influx of out-of-work NHL players.

“The Russian league is certainly stronger this year than at any other time,” McPhee said. “Alexander has tremendous strength and talent, but what you learn to admire most about him is how hard he works and competes and how much he loves to play the game. In all the time we’ve seen him, he’s never taken a shift off. He goes all out, all the time.”

McPhee also saw Ivan Nepryayev, a 22-year-old center drafted four years ago who plays for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the same league.

“He scored two goals in the game we saw, so we know we have some people who look like they can play in the NHL,” McPhee said.

He also stopped in the Czech Republic to get another look at Petr Sykora, a forward with Pardubice in the Czech Extra League whom the Caps obtained in a trade with Nashville three years ago. Sykora had 23 goals and 46 points in 48 games last season, a high offensive output in European hockey.

“Sykora is a big man [6-foot-2, 205 pounds] who can skate and score goals,” McPhee said of the forward, who almost joined the Caps a year ago but missed the signing deadline.

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