It’s been two months since the lockout hit the NHL with Russia’s brightest stars now shining in the KHL. RT caught up with star forward Alex Ovechkin to find out what the move back home meant to him both on and off the ice.
One man's disadvantage can often be someone else's gain. The NHL lockout left millions of hockey lovers in America without their favorite sport. But now, many fans across the Atlantic have the good fortune to see some of the cream of the crop play in front of them in the KHL.
It's already been eight weeks since one of the sport's greats, Russia's Aleksandr Ovechkin, came to reinforce his home club, Dynamo Moscow. Although it could have gone another way by creating a dream line at CSKA with another Russian superstar, Pavel Dastyuk.
“I had an option with CSKA. I was almost signed by them. I have very good a relationship with [CSKA’s general manager] Sergey Fedorov. I talked to him but, right now, I'm here and I'm happy,” he says.
Ovechkin was quick to adjust to the new league. His KHL debut saw him showing off the trademark slap shot that turned into his first point for the blue-and-whites and he has since added six goals and another seven assists.
“Of course, it's a different hockey here than in the NHL – different rinks, different, ice, different speed, less contacts here, not many hits, but I don't think I've changed as a player much. I play at my best, and I try to do my best,” he notes.
The game might be a bit less physical in the KHL than in the NHL. But the bigger rinks have nothing to do with making it less competitive.
One of the world's best strikers claims that in some respects it's even tougher to score in Europe's strongest league.
“In the NHL if you came to the zone you can shoot a wrist shot from the blue line, but here it's very tough to score from there. You have to skate a couple more meters, and you can feel the difference behind the net, in front of the net,” he explains.
Changing leagues is not just about the hockey. With the Washington Capitals Ovechkin collected almost all the major trophies the NHL has to offer and earned him fame as arguably the world's top player. But didn't the big city lights of Moscow tempt him back – more than the hockey?
“The only problem I have in Washington is that I miss my friends, my family. But if you are a professional and have time to relax, you have to use it. But most of the time you just don't have a day off, don't have time to do something crazy, what you always do in summer,” he says, before adding, “You've grown up like a person, you've grown up like a player. And if you did some stuff when you were 20-21 years old, you would never do it now. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from your life and it's your future. You can go out, you can do something crazy before the game because you're healthy but you need to stay at 100 per cent. Usually it doesn't work.”
Ovechkin moved to the NHL when he was a fiery 20-year-old doing madcap things both on and off the ice. He has changed in the last seven years. The fire is still there but now he seems to be more focused than ever.