True collectors would understand.
For someone passionate about stamps, it would be like having everything but a Penny Black. A dedicated numismatist would be missing a 1911 Canadian silver dollar – or a 1936 dot.
Alexander Ovechkin hardly needs reminding what is missing from his collection: the Stanley Cup.
He is, however, one tentative step closer, now that his Washington Capitals have vanquished the two-time champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and are playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final. Winner of this best-of-seven moves on to the Stanley Cup final, where Ovechkin has never ventured.
He’ll be 33 in September, his dark hair beginning to grey. In 13 NHL seasons he has seven times – including this past season – won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, beating Sidney Crosby. He has won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s regular-season points leader. He has won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most-valuable player three times. He is the only NHL star with an asteroid named after him.
But he still has no Stanley Cup.
What makes this even more glaring is that Alexander Ovechkin may well be the most avid and passionate “collector” hockey has ever known. He is his own Hockey Hall of Fame.
The vastness of his memorabilia collection is breathtaking. The Washington Post was able to visit both his home in McLean, Va., and the Ovechkin family’s dacha in the countryside outside of his former home in Moscow and see just how vast the collection has grown.
It appears Ovechkin and his parents have kept everything hockey-related that came his way, from the first NHL sweater he wore as a youngster – San Jose Sharks – to a mannequin fitted with every piece of equipment he wore while scoring his 500th goal. They even kept the tickets from the 2004 draft, when their pride and joy was selected first over all by the Capitals.
Every stick used for every milestone along the way is kept behind glass, the sticks signed by teammates who assisted on the goals. He also collects sticks from other superstars, a tradition that began in his rookie year when Mario Lemieux gave him a signed stick to begin the collection that now numbers around a hundred.
The trophies and ribbons and special pucks and photographs and national-team outfits are all carefully cared for by the Ovechkin parents. Five German shepherds – one of them called Ovie – would surely scare off any potential thief scouting out the dacha for a potential burglary.
Mikhail and Tatiana Ovechkin spend most of their time there, never failing to stream their son’s games. He calls his mother every day. Tatiana has long been his inspiration. She won two Olympic gold medals as a basketball player, impressive for someone who at the age of 7 was hit by a car and suffered such a severely broken leg she was in hospital for a year. He gets his toughness and drive from her.
Great things were always predicted for the player known as the “Great 8.” At 16 he was on Russia’s gold-medal team at the world juniors. At 17 he was the youngest to make the national team.
So highly regarded was he that at the 2003 NHL entry draft the Florida Panthers made a bizarre attempt to draft him even though his 18th birthday (Sept. 15) came two days after the eligibility cutoff. The Panthers argued that if leap years were taken into consideration, he should be available. The league disagreed.
Washington drafted him the following year and the marriage – apart from that one glaring exception – has been magical. In a salary-cap era, when huge, long-term contracts have largely proved disastrous for teams, Ovechkin’s US$124-million, 13-year contract, which will run through the 2020-21 season, has never been viewed as a bad deal.
“Do I have any regrets,” team owner Ted Leonsis has said. “Yeah, my regret is it wasn’t a 15-year contract.”
He has not only proved great hockey value – 607 goals, 1,122 points in the regular season – but great entertainment value. Kids, in particular, idolize the one they call Ovie. Crosby may be the more accomplished of the two superstars who have been measured against each other for 13 seasons – Crosby has won the Stanley Cup three times, Olympic gold twice – but it is the Ovechkin one-timer that road-hockey dreamers want to imitate. His shot, right-handed coming from the left circle, is so quick and hard that Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick says you only see “the blur of the puck coming at you in frames.”
Ovechkin brings a sense of humour that can be delightful in a game in which good quotes are increasingly rare and robotic behaviour the norm. When he received the key to the city in 2008, his acceptance speech was simple: “Everybody have fun. No speed limit today.”
He has goofed around during the goofy all-star competitions. He celebrates goals with a flamboyance that delights many, outrages many. Criticized by Hockey Night In Canada’s Don Cherry for overexuberant displays – placing his stick on the ice after scoring a 50th goal and acting as if it was too “hot” to touch – a laughing Ovechkin said, “He’s going to be pissed off for sure … I love it.”
It would seem he has everything: fame, fortune, fancy cars, now a wife in model Anastasia Shubskaya, daughter of famous Russian actress and director Vera Glagoleva.
Too often, however, people note what he does not have. An Olympic gold medal, despite being on strong Russian teams that are usually favoured at first, founder at the end. And, of course, that much-coveted Stanley Cup.
“It’s been too long,” he told Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson after his team had dispatched the defending champions. “Finally we beat Pittsburgh, and finally we move to the next round. We didn’t go home. We’re not going to vacation. We’re still battling.”
Battling on in the hopes of rounding out a remarkable collection.