Tuesday night was a historic one for Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, but not everyone was impressed.
Calgary Flames fans consistently booed the Russian star when he carried the puck during the Capitals’ 5-4 victory at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Alberta, Canada, according to multiple reports. Before the game, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said the team and its Russian players were “aware” of how fans may react during its trip in Western Canada as a response to the war in Ukraine.
Ovechkin, who was also reportedly booed when his name was said by the public address announcer, scored two goals in the win to tie Jaromir Jagr for third on the NHL’s all-time goals list at 766. The 36-year-old’s first goal tied the game at 2-2 after Washington (31-18-9) trailed by two goals early. He then scored an empty-netter late in the third period. Ovechkin nearly scored again on an empty-net shot to pass Jagr, but his shot was deflected.
“I think they’re aware of what’s going on,” Laviolette said before the game.
“We talk to our players about it. We support our players,” he later added. “They’ve done so much good for the game. They’re athletes. They’re here playing hockey. They’ve done so much good for our organization and for the game. We can’t control what other people say.”
The boos at Ovechkin could continue for the remainder of the Capitals’ road trip, and possibly for future road games in the United States.
One hint of this may have come Saturday when the Columbus Blue Jackets, while hosting the Boston Bruins, played a tribute video for retired player Rick Nash. Ovechkin was one of several NHL players to congratulate Nash on getting his No. 61 retired by the Blue Jackets, but Columbus fans weren’t happy at Ovechkin’s inclusion in the video. According to hockey writer Mark Scheig, Blue Jackets fans booed when he appeared on the video board.
Ovechkin has drawn the ire of hockey fans in recent weeks amid the war in Ukraine. In 2017, Ovechkin campaigned for Russian President Vladimir Putin on social media, and his Instagram profile picture still remains one of him posing with Putin. One day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Ovechkin said, “please, no more war,” but when he was asked specifically if he still supports Putin, he dodged the question.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals released a team statement “condemning” the war in Ukraine and announcing their support for Russian players Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov.
“Monumental Sports & Entertainment and the Washington Capitals join the National Hockey League in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the loss of innocent life. We urge and hope for a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible,” the statement read.
“The Capitals also stand in full support of our Russian players and their families overseas. We realize they are being put in a difficult situation and stand by to offer our assistance to them and their families.”
According to Statistics Canada, nearly 1.4 million people of Ukrainian origin were living in Canada in 2016, making the country the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world. Last week, the Flames projected a Ukrainian flag on the ice during its game against Montreal, and on Monday, the Ukrainian national anthem was performed prior to Calgary’s game against Edmonton.