The Washington Capitals arrived at their practice facility Wednesday morning and found it difficult to focus on hockey. This building harbored countless memories of Alex Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, who had been a presence here for years as his son developed into one of the world’s best players, often standing behind the glass or rolling through the locker room with an infectious smile on his face.
Alex Ovechkin announces death of his father, Mikhail
Some of the Capitals veterans reflected on those stories from their locker stalls after being informed that Mikhail had died Wednesday. He was 71.
Ovechkin texted his teammates the news of his father’s death and departed for Russia to be with his family on Wednesday morning, Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said.
“Today I lost my father,” Ovechkin wrote on Instagram, according to a translation of the social media post. “I thank everyone for their support, but I ask you to be understanding and not disturb my family at such a difficult time for us! Thank you.”
Ovechkin left the team to attend to his family earlier this week, sitting out Tuesday’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals captain is expected to miss at least the rest of this week — “He has our full support,” Laviolette said — and while the hockey implications of his absence present numerous challenges, players and coaches were simply focused on the loss of a fixture in the organization Wednesday.
Mikhail served as a major influence in his son’s career, helping guide him from his early days as a phenom with Dynamo Moscow to attending many of the milestones of his 18-year NHL career.
“He would never miss my practices,” Ovechkin told The Washington Post last year. “When I was growing up … parents always telling me: ‘You have to stay who you are. You can’t change — doesn’t matter how much money you have.’ ”
Mikhail had recovered from heart surgery in Russia in 2014 while Ovechkin competed at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although Mikhail’s declining health in recent years kept him and his wife, Tatyana, from traveling to the United States from Russia, they were known to stream all Capitals games from their home in Moscow, which over the years housed a shrine of memorabilia celebrating their son’s accomplishments.
Mikhail was unable to watch the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in person in 2018, but his son brought the trophy home to Russia to share it with his parents. Ovechkin honored his father in other ways: Mikhail had played professional soccer for FC Dynamo Moscow, which led his son to sign a one-match deal with the club last year and wear his father’s No. 3 jersey.
“There was a bond and that’s kind of a very unique thing,” said Capitals winger Tom Wilson, who called Ovechkin “a bigger-than-life kind of a guy.”
“And his dad I think is that way, too,” he said.
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No current Capitals player had been around Mikhail as much as 35-year-old Nicklas Backstrom, who upon joining the Capitals in 2007 grew close with the Ovechkin family. Both Backstrom, a native of Sweden, and Mikhail did not speak English at the time, but they would communicate with their hands. Backstrom spent hours away from the ice with the Ovechkin family, often joining Alex and Mikhail at basketball games, and when they were at the rink, Mikhail provided a lift.
“The one thing I will always remember is he was always happy,” Backstrom said. “He was always in the locker room. He was hanging out with the guys. He loved that, I think. That’s what he loved, so to get hit by this sad news is obviously really tough. I feel for the whole family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Most of the Capitals took part in the team’s optional skate Wednesday morning. The locker room was quiet as players came off the ice. Ovechkin’s locker sat empty.
“We wish we were all with him right now … we’re really sad,” forward Garnet Hathaway said.
Laviolette had hockey questions to consider, including what lineup changes he would need to make amid Ovechkin’s absence. He had texted his captain Wednesday to provide support.
“I’ve heard some stories, how he loved being in the practice facility, loved being with the team and the players. It’s always a special relationship with your dad. Often times it’s your dad that gets you into the sport,” Laviolette said. “It’s a sad day.”