Alexander, it hasn't been long since the triumph of team Russia at the World Championship in Canada where you played like real heroes. Did you have time to realize the greatness of what you have done?
When we arrived in Moscow and came out of the plane a huge crowd was greeting us. The flowers, applause, cries of delight, the fuss of celebration... Only then we realized what we have done.
It's not just about that our hockey players couldn't win the World Championship for 15 years...
Yes, it was also a 100 year anniversary of the International Ice Hockey Federation...
...And it was the first World Championship's tournament held at the home of the game. Never before the world championships were held in Canada.
Here, I didn't even know that.
Do you feel pity that you were not included in media All Star team? You were worth of that.
The most important thing is that the team has won. I am fully satisfied with my game; 2 goals in the final plus one assist. What else is needed to feel good?
And now you have visited President Medvedev...
They drove us [from the airport] and [at first] we did sightseeing over... What we have there?
Well, Kremlin, apparently.
Yes, we did sightseeing of the Kremlin. Showed us all the attractions. Everything's beautiful, everything's gilded. Then we met, he congratulated us.
You may have all kept humbly politely silent. And he was doing all the job.
I think he was a little awkward himself.
For him it was also a novelty.
Yes, it's not so long since he became a president. Well, maybe it's been a while, but he still is not accustomed to it yet. When you read [your speech] from the paper and don't even know what is written there, that, I think, is very difficult. One could see his awkwardness. But this is normal. We listened, drank champagne, photographed. And then we left.
The media has already glorified Ovechkin's beach slippers, he was wearing them at the reception.
Well, he flew in, had nothing to wear, it happened. There are badder things that happened. Of course, someone could be surprised. Not a big deal, I think.
Initially, perhaps, it was purely a human thing to think, "Ouch, now we have to drag ourselves to the celebration. And, on top of that, to the Kremlin". I bet it was like that, dog gone it, the formalities started...
This is our work. We won. And must appear before Russia, to see the fan's faces.
NHL teaches [everyone] to be politically correct. Over there you can't say unnecessary word, a strict etiquette, many conditionalities.
It's true. Every person should understand who and how he represents. Once again I'd say; only the best people in hockey are playing for the national team. They should be better in their ordinary life, in their everyday behavior. To be honest, yes, we were very tired. Flying over the ocean and immediately going to the Kremlin. And we have not been instructed, "wear this, do that".
And then each left their own homeland, large and small...
Yes, everybody went to their own destination. I flew to Krasnoyarsk that night.
This was clearly your best tournament. And in general, probably the most successful appearance for the national team.
One can say that, so it is.
And what do you remember the most from the past appearances for the national team?
In Austria, it was the world championship in 2003. There in Vienna we lost in the semi's to Canadians, 3:4. It was a game of principle, we fought such a hard battle; we were losing 0:4, and than we made it 3:4. But we were a bit unfortunate, didn't have enough power.
In connection with the Vancouver-2010, where will be the Olympics held? No plans yet?
Why bother with predictions? A lot of time left, two years. We'll have the World Championships tournament in Switzerland next year. How our team will play? Maybe the Capitals will get into playoffs, maybe we'll battle for the Stanley Cup.
But if nothing prevent you, then...
When I'll get an invitation from the national team, then I will think.
How important is the personality of the coach for you? Some of our hockey stars have some coaches they can't stand.
It's true. Virtually every other player has it.
Is there a coach to whom you won't go?
I haven't noticed it in me from the very childhood. And I hope it won't happen ever. If I'm invited to play for the Russian national team, it is always a pleasure. The pleasure and a great honor, to play for a top team of your country.
And what about that unfortunate case when you were late because of the small delays in Krasnoyarsk, and you were dismissed from the team? Was it Bykov who let you go back then?
The Head coach.
It was Bykov?
Yes. But I don't have any resentment. If I had a resentment, I wouldn't come to this world championship. And if I still showed up, it means I have the desire, the mood and motivation to play for the Russian national team.
Let's go back in time and remember your Krasnoyarsk's beginning of the path to the top. It is not given to everyone to start in the city far from hockey and rise above the crowd.
When I started playing hockey, there was some hockey in the city. I think we had a Class A team, in my opinion.
Yes, the second league, the eastern zone, the hockey club named Falcon. And in what year you started, do you remember?
Maxim Galanov, our first player who went overseas, did he already leave?
Yes, he was not in Krasnoyarsk back then. And I started playing hockey in kindergarten, when I was five.
Was it also in Zelenaja Roscha, with the Falcon?
Yes, yes, yes...
But the school apparently was near, right? Was it school #98?
I was in school #141 on Voronov street. Ten minutes' walk from the Falcon. We lived near.
Everybody went to sign up and you too, right? Or did someone invite you?
My Dad was playing hockey, he was the coach. I think it's mostly goes to Dad's credit [why I started to play]
And who raised you as a child?
In general, Dad and Mom. But on the ice it was basically Dad, of course. Mom was traveling with me since I was 15. Dad at first was a head coach, then worked as a manager at KrAZ (Krasnoyarsk aluminum plant). And when he retired, started to train young kids. When I played already in Togliatti, my Dad went there and coached the second team. When I went to America for the first time, I went alone, Mom came after half of a season passed. Dad visited me only this year.
Do your parents live there?
They come, they leave. Hard to live there permanently. For them it's even harder to change, I think, than for me. Because they grew up here, they have been living in Siberia for so long that they can never become Americans, hundred per cent.
I've heard the name Semin in Krasnoyarsk hockey in the late seventies.
This was my Dad's brother and Dad himself. Valery Semin and Yuri Semin. They played well. Dad at one time tried to leave for the Voskresensk Khimik, but something failed.
What about famous soccer coach Yuri Semin, do you know him?
Never crossed his path.
He is now a head coach for Kiev Dynamo, but earlier he coached team Russia.
Of course I heard about him, but is unlikely we'll ever meet. I don't go to soccer games. And in any case it would be ridiculous on my part to send greetings to the person with the same last name.
I used to go to Falcon games in the 80s. And I know many of our old players: Lappa, Sarana, Karepov...
My Dad is even older than them.
Also Gribov, Zaitsev, Andronov, Sazhnev...
Yes, I know all of them too. When I was little I skated with them all the time. They played decent for Falcon, now they are veterans.
And when you got better and realized that you above the Krasnoyarsk level of hockey?
I left from here when I was 15. Played one year in Tyumen. Then three years in Chelyabinsk. After that I moved in Togliatti. And from there I got in the NHL.
Where there the scouts that started "Come over for tryouts?"
How old were you when you ended up in NHL?
I left when I was 19, soon after I turned 20. I was chosen by Washington Capitals and that was it, we agreed that I'll come. If it won't work, I'll go back to Russia.
Who of our guys was playing for Washington back then?
Zubrus and Gonchar.
Was it a completely different Capitals team than now?
When I came to Capitals the team was much stronger than now because there were practically all stars. Prior to that they lost in playoffs, in the quarterfinals, I think.They lost in shootouts or something, I don't remember exactly. Jagr, Bondra, Gonchar were playing.. There were a lot of famous players. But at the end of the season they all were traded. And the team was left with nothing. For two years until Ovechkin came, it was a scene of great stagnation. Now, yes, we are a young team, a good, fast team. Exactly what is needed for these times.
Did you have a culture shock, from poor Russia to spoiled United States, from European hockey to overseas hockey, where even the rinks are different?
I can only say about hockey. For me there was nothing unexpected. The only thing is that the game over there is more physical and faster. Other than that it's all the same.
Did you play in AHL?
I went there once after a season in the NHL. I was asked to play for the second team to help them get into playoffs. After two rounds we were out. The hockey over there, of course, is not the same as in the NHL.
Let's go back to the World Cup. Do you think you could win without Nabokov who played excellent?
It is now difficult to say something. The work is done. Yes, you can guess, if it would not be... Without Evgeni it would be harder, because he is one of the best goalkeepers in NHL. I think he gave the confidence to many of our defensemen. And to the whole team in general. Eremenko, of course, did well until the injury. And, perhaps could do more, going further. Biryukov has a very little experience. But Eremenko could play well.
Ilya Bryzgalov probably regrets about his decision.
He refused. Maybe he regrets, but it's his own business. Whatever is done, it's all done for the better.
Do you remember 1998 in Nagano, Japan, we had an excellent Russian team? The guys played awesome, could get gold. Pavel Bure worked miracles. Can we compare these two teams?
I doubt I can compare them well. First of all I didn't play there. And, moreover, I vaguely remember those games. And the Olympics are different than the Worlds. Each tournament on top level is played differently.
About the final game. I had the impression that Canadians are themselves a reason why they lost. Their Coach Hitchcock imposed defensive tactics to retain the score. When they were ahead by two goals, they could increase the gap many times, but they tried to keep the score.
I believe that it was not the case. We really lost the first period, but mostly because we had too many penalties, in fact, we played four against five all the time. In the second and third periods we imposed our game, started playing the type of hockey we are the best at. We didn't adjust to their game, but they were forced to adjust to our game. We were simply one step ahead, just what our coach wanted. We got it. That's all.
Russia, of course, didn't have the first team. Malkin, Datsyuk didn't play. But Canada didn't have their stars either.
Why? They had a good team. Who they did not have?
Crosby, who is now like a real personification of their nation.
We could also have Malkin who can perform like three guys. It's hard to say that if those players who are best in the NHL will come and play, they automatically will be the best team. It is not. Yes, you can be a leader in your team, but the national team is the national team. You play hockey as a team, and the leaders sometimes perform unusual functions they are not used to.
Were you arguably better at the world championship than when played for Capitals?
At first my season started as a failure. I was injured. I didn't play for 2.5 months. And then everything went on. When there were 15 games left before the playoffs, I started to get in shape. And the worlds were later. I peaked. And it all got together.
Did you follow the Stanley Cup finals?
Yes, it all came out naturally. I was rooting for Detroit. Not because it was opposite to someone, I simply like Detroit more.
Datsyuk is super.
Yes, of course. Plus Zetterberg, Lidstrom. Pittsburgh had a good team too; Crosby, Gonchar, Malkin, Hossa, but this year Detroit was unstoppable.
Pavel Datsyuk is increasingly compared to Igor Larionov.
I don't know, I like Pasha more than anybody. Everybody has their opinion about the players.
Who is number one in the NHL?
At the moment? I'd select Pasha Datsyuk. This is a player I like for a very long time. He has the best hands.
It is believed that since Gretzky and Lemieux the game in the NHL is even faster.
Now most players are skating better. And the game is more physical.
Nobody skates better than Bure.
I haven't yet seen such a player to be honest.
You mean the one who is a better skater?
The one who plays, and shoots, and one on one...
Is it time for NHL to slightly change the rules?
What do you mean?
Isn't the rink too small for a dozen men in armor?
It creates a spectacle.
Because it is crowded?
Well, of course. More shots, more physical battles.
But in overtime when it's four on four, it's more spacious, and it looks better.
I disagree. The crowd is bigger on every game, that's the criterion.
Our newspaper "Competitor" is published in Krasnoyarsk and also in Novosibirsk. There they have Siberia, the Superleague team. What do you think happen if Siberia and Capitals would play a series of up to four victories…
Well I don't know who plays there.
I don't know either. Siberia is probably the 10th team in Russia.
In my opinion Capitals are obliged to beat them. I won't say to sweep, but to beat.
If the series of up to four victories, then 4:1. Maybe 4:2.
Do you remember that crazy goal in the finals by Dany Heatley, a lightning shot right next to the pole. In my opinion it was the most beautiful goal of entire championship.
The fourth goal? He partially fanned. I swear. The puck came off his hook.
But the goalkeeper did not even move.
No, why, Zhenka [Nabokov] said he moved, he simply put the pad a bit wrong.
You still think he fanned?
I saw that. And I didn't notice a lightning shot either.
In addition to Washington Capitals, is there any NHL team you wouldn't mind to leave to? The same Detroit, for example?
I am not a fan of changing the environment. I am such a person that I am satisfied with everything in Washington. Never thought about leaving. And how to leave? You decided to play for another team and you leave? There is no such thing in NHL. If they trade you, they won't ask where you want to.
Washington DC is a city much more boring than New York.
But it's harder to play in New York.
Because we are young and everything is interesting for us. And New York is like second Moscow, everything is open there for 24 hours. Too many temptations, and the buzz and the noise.
Plus there are two NHL teams.
Even three. New Jersey is based nearby.
How about exotic hockey south? Florida, home of Panters or California, the residence of Ducks?
There, I think, is even harder to play. Florida, Miami, always sunny, the beach. You understand what's there.
Washington has NBA team to watch, Wizards...
Yes, we go to their games all the time. Very interesting. There are some outstanding basketball teams with big stars.
Are you playing at different arenas?
The same arena. They just cover the ice and that's all.
Have you seen Michael Jordan when he played for Washington?
I missed him by a little bit, he ended his career. His brother now coaches Wizards.
Have you heard that Anna Kournikova and Sergei Fedorov were almost married?
I know, of course, like everyone.
Have you discussed this love affair among the players? If these two stars got married? Or all of this is nonsense?
Well, Anya was dating a lot of guys. Now she lives with Iglesias.
Do you have a lady in your heart?
You are an enviable bachelor, rich, handsome, young, with the future.
So far I have not met anyone.
But if something...
No, I am not ready to marry. Though time will tell. At first you need to know the person, and then make conclusions.
Will it be a Russian girl or anybody?
Of course would be nice if it would be someone from your city. Here are all the friends, relatives. I doubt it would be good if I am from here and she is from there. However one can't predict. We'll see.
Let's talk about the personal life. For the everyday life, does all suits you in America? A lot of our players are getting resident there. For example, Larionov.
Over there? He played his whole life in America. His family, children are in the States.
Can it happen to you?
I won't even go that far. At the moment I wouldn't want to live there. But anything can happen.
And what you don't like the most? The environment?
Well, yes. It's boring there. And everything is different. But now I do not want to make any predictions. There will be another time, it may take ten years, fifteen…
Do you like the food at least? Those fast foods are loathsome.
You getting tired of it. But you have to, and you are getting used to.
And what are you getting tired of?
Even the smell of it?
No, you can eat it, it is tasty. The meat is cooked much tastier than in Russia. The rest is the same, but there is some aftertaste in everything. But you are getting used to it.
You said before that you were renting a house in Washington.
Now I got the house. I bought it this year. A lot easier now.
How many floors?
Are you satisfied with the land? Over there the house prices depend on the size of the land.
It depends also on location, in what part of the town. I live next to the training arena. 15 minutes away. I am happy with everything.
No exhaust from huge trucks?
No, they don't have it. It all seems like outside of the city and surrounded with green trees. The green trees are all over.
Still you missing something, what is it?
The Russian sauna. Unfortunately one can't built it on its own land. You can [build] a Finnish sauna. Or Turkish, whatever it is. But you can't build Russian sauna. I don't know why. They have those strict fire codes.
Did you have any conflicts or at least contacts with the State? Maybe the cops were after you in the bar. Or you got arrested for speeding…
Knock on wood, I didn't have anything like that. So far so good. There everything is taken seriously, in particular, for excessive speed. We regard it as trifles, and there it is very strict.
Do you have a speedy car?
Mercedes. Very old, a rattletrap. (Laughing)
I'll write as you said. I might add its stolen.
Nice merc, CLS class. I am completely satisfied with it. The engine is 6.3.
The hypothesis: to be the NHL hockey player means doing hard labor. One hundred games per season, it's impossible.
Why impossible? As you can see we are playing.
It is incomprehensible, every third day you fly. Aren't you getting crazy?
Yes, but what can I do? This is your work. You came here not for entertainment.
It is possible, of course, to make 60 games per season, but then you'll lose money.
You won't lose anything. You are paid for the regular season. You are not paid for playoff games.
And what if they would say, "Let's play 120 games". This would also be your work. What's then?
You simply won't have time to play all these games. There won't be any breaks.
Do the flights wear you out?
We are playing not so far from home. We fly to Canada once per season, its 5 hours flight. Other than that we fly at most 2.5 hours to Florida. And the rest is an hour or 40 minutes.
How about Los Angeles?
We never flew there. We are in different conferences.
And when you fly, how do you deal with boredom?
We play poker. All the time. We have 6 people, die-hard players, who constantly play.
There should be a table for that.
We have our own charter plane. There are the seats with the tables. We sit, we play.
Are you playing for a personal win?
Of course, not just for nothing.
And who is Capitals champion in poker?
Backstrom is pretty good. But its different all the time. Once one guy will win, then another guy, then another.
You don't have any problems with the language, do you?
A bit. I am still shy a bit, but each year it's getting better and better. I won't say I speak English well, but I can chat.
5 more years and you can write the books [in English].
Why? A couple of years would be enough.
You don't like the interviews in English, do you?
No, I don't give them.
Have you ever been beaten up by any enforcer?
Why would one beat me up? They beat up each other.
Do you have a bodyguard on ice?
Brashear is managing it. But he is not my bodyguard, he is everyone's.
Sounds like old Donald is not giving up his enforcer rank? He is already 36.
No, I think he has some gas left.
What about a healthy lifestyle? Do you violate it rarely, but still violate?
I think one can't live without it. There are some people who don't drink at all, but I am not one of them. Sometimes it helps in difficult situations. Or simply to relieve from the stress. Although I am too young to have stress.
Do you have any secret that helps to stay healthy, cheerful and resourceful? Like sleep for 15 hours?
In Washington I sleep a lot. Go to bed at midnight, get up at 9:00am. Go to morning skate. Sleep again, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. This is because there is nothing else to do over there, that's why I sleep all the time.
Where there any incidents because of your sleeping routine?
It was once in Canada. I think we were playing Finns in semifinals at 5:00pm or 5:30pm. I went to bed at 2:00pm. I was going to wake up at 4:15pm because we were leaving at 4:50pm. And I woke up at 4:55pm! I woke up myself without alarm. I've put the phone on vibrate, everybody's calling me. Nobody knew where I was, they were worried. If I wouldn't wake up, I could oversleep the whole game. But I still managed to get to the bus, nothing happened.
You told about Dmitri Medvedev. What about Alexander Hloponin?
I met with him recently. We talked about the development of hockey in Krasnoyarsk, about the construction of the ice arena. it's going to be built soon, they promised.
No, I think this is important. I grew up here, I was born here. I began to play here. I think just having only one Falcon hockey club for Krasnoyarsk is not enough. For those children who can't get into playing hockey. More arenas, more ice rinks and there will be a lot more people to play hockey.
And then you can make hockey clinics here, show some drills.
I am all for it!
We regularly have the hockey games between "KrasAir" and the administration of the province in Krasnoyarsk.
I know. And we played together many times already.
Are they are clearly "better" than you?
We talk about amateurs.
But do they somehow understand it? Or do they try to fight you?
What do you mean?
I'm kidding a little bit. Their level, does it satisfy you?
I just get out to play for fun. I think it's a great fun for them too. For me it's just quite an interesting leisure.
Did you travel to some countries on vacation?
Of course, after every season we go somewhere to relax. I was in Egypt two years ago, it just happened. I didn't go anywhere else.
Did you go to some interesting concerts in America?
We went to see "Pussycat Dolls". What else? We went to many concerts. I simply don't remember the names already. "Maroon Five", Christina Aguilera. We met with them personally.
Was it with Washington?
We just went together with Ovechkin. We were introduced.
Does music has any influence in your life?
Now I listen European music more. Basically what other people listen. Anything, in general.
And who are your favorite actors?
Brad Pitt, perhaps.
Do you have any superstitions? A lot of players are very superstitious.
Everybody has their own routines before the game. But I won't tell you about mine's, because I can lose luck.
Is there a God?
I think so.
Just a hockey God or universal God?
God throughout the universe, of course. He directs all that there is on Earth.
The Americans as a nation are very religious. Their whole families go to the church, and there are many churches.
I don't know about it.
When you'll have a family, will you go too, maybe?
I go to church already. We have this option. We go to church all the time.
In the States most churches are Protestant.
I don't know, I go to the Russian Orthodox Church.
And in Canada, where you've been many times, is there a feeling that this is the Hockey Mecca?
Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, those cities are all crazy about it. Hockey for them is a number one thing. And in the States... Two years ago we had only about 10,000 people at the game. Now we have the full stadium, 18-19 thousand people. As of Toronto and Montreal, those are real hockey towns, always sold out.
Have you been in Toronto's Museum of hockey?
I was there this year. It's beautiful and enlightening.
Who was your idol?
Pavel Bure. I was 10 years old, I'd get up early on Saturday morning, watched NHL games. Back then they showed those games from over the ocean in the mornings. My Dad would wake me up. I enjoyed watching how he played.
What is the most memorable game or goal that you scored?
There were many games, many goals, scored, and not scored, and many beautiful goals. The best is yet to come.
I may note my participation in the 5th goal, a game winning World Cup goal.
In soccer there is known to everyone Beckham, a glamor lollipop, earning hundreds of times more than he is worth as a good footballer. Hockey doesn't have their own Beckham, does it? Although, of course, there are a lot of wealthy dudes.
Ovechkin is the most expensive NHL player now, 124 million dollars in 13 years. And Beckham has 250mil, for how long? For 5 years, I think . So make your own conclusions.
Did Ovechkin change after his contract was increased so dramatically?
After he signed it he became more motivated or something, I don't know…
In terms of the game did he became even more greedy?
Yes, he started playing much better to be honest. He became more mean, aggressive. But outside of the game he was the same person as before, friendly, sociable.
I don't want to jinx, but you also certainly will have a huge increase. When, by the way, your contract ends?
I have another two years.
And then your agent will start to push the management?
That's up to the club, whatever they decide. Maybe in a year, or next year something change.
What about in general, do money spoil a person? Or does the money give you such a freedom, such a pleasure, if you have a lot of money?
I think the most important is to be a human being. And everything else will come.
Or will not come. One of the two.
If it is given to you to take what you must take, then you'll take it one way or another.
Who among NHL players lives a glamor life?
Those who have already played five or six years or more.
Some may have built a house with 60 floors? No such thing? Or someone has a car that is 20 yards long?
And why would you need one?
Is it inconvenient?
I think so.
Do they talk about George W. Bush?
No, I did not hear.
Well, at least is there such person?
I know who he is. Like he will be replaced, as far as I know.
What is done wrong in the world?
This is not for me. I won't even try.
Shouldn't young man think about it?
And what will it change? Even if I say something. What's the point?
God can hear you. You go to church.
I still won't say anything condemning anyone.
Then what is your credo?
Get everything out of life.