MONTREAL – With only a few days to go before the start of the Olympic hockey tournament, Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin says he’s not thinking about it yet. Nor has he begun engaging in some friendly trash talking with his Swedish, Czech, Canadian or American teammates on the Washington Capitals, he claims.
“No, not yet,” Ovechkin said Wednesday prior to the Capitals game against the Montreal Canadiens. “After (our last) couple of games, (then) we’re going to talk about it.”
But Ovechkin’s friend, linemate and Olympic rival Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden tells a different story.
“There’s a bit of trash talk going on,” Backstrom said. “But nothing that big.”
Ovechkin will be joined on the Russian team in Vancouver by his Capitals teammates Alexander Semin and Semyon Varlamov, with Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann of the Czech Republic rounding out Washington’s list of five Olympians.
But even though Ovechkin insisted he wasn’t doing any trash talking, he betrayed his own words only a few minutes after saying them.
When asked about the 14-game win streak the Capitals were riding into Montreal and whether he had ever been on a similar run at any other level of hockey, Ovechkin didn’t have to think very long to come up with a snarky answer.
“World championships, probably, when we beat Canada,” he said with a big, gap-toothed smile going from ear to ear, before adding, “in the final.”
That would be the 2008 world championships in Quebec City, when Ovechkin had 12 points in nine games to help Russia take the gold medal with a 5-4 overtime win over Canada in the final.
Ovechkin famously dug out the “lucky loonie” from centre ice after the game and gave it to Russian teammate Ilya Nikulin, who cut it in two and made two necklaces out of the souvenir.
Capitals defenceman Mike Green, who was on the losing Canadian team in that game, says Ovechkin’s jewellery still makes an appearance from time to time.
“He rubs it in our face and says that he’s coming and this and that,” Green said with a shrug. “Whatever.”
Green says Ovechkin is probably the team’s biggest pre-Olympic trash-talker, in spite of what No. 8 himself claims. Green would love to get a chance to steal that half loonie away from his tormentor, but the opportunity simply hasn’t come up.
“He keeps it close to him,” Green said, “so I can’t get at it.”
Ovehckin’s Russian team, the two-time defending world champions, are widely considered to be heading on a collision course to meet Canada in the gold medal game on Feb. 28.
That suits Backstrom just fine, because it allows his Swedish team to head to Vancouver under the radar. It’s an odd place for the Swedes to be, considering they are the defending Olympic champions and hold perhaps the tournament’s biggest wild card in Peter Forsberg. But Backstrom has no problem with it.
“I think that’s good that everyone is talking about Canada and Russia,” Backstrom said with a grin. “It’s going to be a tough tournament, but even if Russia and Canada are the favourites, there’s a lot of other teams that can win. It’s just about one game, it’s not a best-of-seven Stanley Cup final. So you never know what can happen.”
Obviously, both Backstrom and Ovechkin like their respective team’s chances to win, but what about an impartial observer who knows both players very well? Someone like American defenceman Brian Pothier?
When asked to choose who would win a game between Ovechkin’s Russians and Backstrom’s Swedes, Pothier gave it some thought.
“I think I’ll take Sweden. I like Sweden,” he said. “I know Russia’s got all the firepower you could ask for, but I think if (Henrik) Lundqvist plays well, they can play defence as a unit and they can control the puck because guys like (Daniel) Alfrfedsson and Backstrom can really do that.”
So, has Pothier told his captain what he thinks of the Russians chances?
“I do everyday,” he said. “I actually tell him the U.S. team’s going to win.”
So clearly, despite what Ovechkin says, Olympic trash talking is alive and well in the Capitals dressing room.