- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Alex Ovechkin landed from Russia, made a trip through customs and rushed straight from the airport Wednesday to return to the Washington Capitals’ facility. After a week away mourning the death of his father, the Russian didn’t wait long to lace up his skates and step onto the ice. 

He was grateful to be back. 

“It was probably toughest situation I’ve been through, through my whole NHL career,” Ovechkin said of his father’s passing. 

Ovechkin’s return comes at a desperate time for the Capitals, who enter Thursday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks having lost five straight — four of which were without their captain. In the 37-year-old’s time away, the Capitals have tumbled down the standings and now sit outside the playoffs. 

But as he gears up to play again — his status for Thursday’s contest was still up in the air, he said — Ovechkin prepares with the memory of his late father fresh in his mind. Speaking to reporters for the first time since his week-long absence, Ovechkin was visibly emotional as he recalled his dad’s impact — both on and off the ice. 

He said he was thankful for the outpouring of support he received in wake of the loss. 

“He give me everything, all his health, all his time,” Ovechkin said of his dad. “He travel with me all over the world and been at every practice when he have a chance.”

Mikhail Ovechkin’s trips to the rink stopped being as frequent in recent years as his health declined. He was unable, for instance, to attend when Washington made its Stanley Cup run in 2018. Instead, the proud father watched from afar.

But that run, in particular, was especially meaningful for Ovechkin and his dad. When Ovechkin brought the Stanley Cup to Russia later that summer, he handed it off to his father — a moment that Ovechkin called the best of his life, outside the birth of his kids and other significant family memories. 

“It kind of was his Cup as well,” he said, quietly. 

Ovechkin said he was only able to skate once while in Russia, meaning he was winded when he took the ice for Washington’s optional skate Wednesday. He skated for roughly 45 minutes, telling reporters that it felt like a train had hit him. 

But Ovechkin seemed happy to be back. The 12-time All-Star kept in touch with teammates while away, with winger Tom Wilson revealing that Ovechkin texted players in a group chat to tell them he missed them. And the feeling was mutual: Ovechkin’s absence was especially felt on the ice. 

The Capitals have scored only seven goals in the last four games and have struggled to generate much of an attack without their leading scorer. Ovechkin leads Washington this season with 54 points (32 goals, 22 assists). 

Coach Peter Laviolette said after Wednesday’s practice that he’d talk with Ovechkin later in the afternoon to determine if he’d play against the Ducks. Just seeing him on the ice again, though, was a positive development. 

“It definitely provides a lift,” Laviolette said of Ovechkin’s return. “He’s the captain of the team. … 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.”

Ovechkin, meanwhile, called his father’s death a tough situation for the rest of his family. Sometime over the next month, Ovechkin’s mother and brother will travel from Russia to stay with him. 

“The people (who) know him,” Ovechkin said, “they’re going to miss his smile. They’re going to miss his energy.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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