If Canadians would suspend their irrational pressure on the host country at the upcoming revived World Cup (Team Canada always has the most pressure on it at major international hockey tournaments) for just a few moments, they would understand that the country that really deserves the most pressure and expectation on it is not their own team but Russia. And the player who probably deserves most of the upcoming heat is Alexander Ovechkin – again.
This writer has scourged Ovechkin over the coals for several years now, mostly about his Washington Capital record. Ovechkin has loads of glorious individual awards, scoring titles, Hart trophies, etc., but his team record is horrible. The Washington Capitals with Ovechkin have yet to play in an Eastern Conference Final let alone compete for the Stanley Cup. This year the team with the most pressure on it was dispatched in six games in the second round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins – despite Ovechkin and his colleague Nicklas Backstrom outplaying their rivals, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin – and after running away with the President’s Trophy. Somehow with Ovechkin, Washington still finds ways to lose. Ovechkin is not the heir of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux but Marcel Dionne, who had a similar NHL career.
But even worse is Ovechkin’s international record. The “Ovechkin era” in Russian/Soviet hockey has been the worst since the Russians/Soviets began playing against NHL competition in 1972. At the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Russia lost in the quarter finals to Canada 7-3 which was probably the worst game this writer has ever seen a Russian/Soviet team play against Canada.
Even worse was another quarter final loss in 2014 on home ice at the Sochi Olympics, this time to Finland 3-1. The “Ovechkin era” in Russian hockey has been horrible, a steep fall for a country that was usually ranked #2 in international hockey tournaments behind only Canada if not the favored #1 team. Now Russia is just one of the group of “big 7″ countries, not picked to win the upcoming World Cup or even feared like they used to be. And since Ovechkin is the main guy on the team, like he is in Washington, the pressure and the attention naturally falls on him.
Hopefully for Russia, being the underdog for once will help the team’s fortunes. Another blatant setback for Russia should mean a lot of soul searching and another black mark on Ovechkin’s tattered belt. At the very least this team has to get to the semi-finals and win some sort of medal. Sweden, Finland, the United States and Czech Republic can go home and lick their wounds if they lose. Canada and Russia will return in the dismal depths of despair if they fail.
This may be Ovechkin’s last chance to make a significant mark internationally. He is already past his physical prime and the next major international competition will be the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea if the NHL decides to participate. He has to be desperate to get some sort of team triumph both with Russia and with Washington. He does not want to be ranked with Marcel Dionne as the best player in NHL history whose team career amounted to mediocrity. But that is how history will judge him if Russia and Washington continue to find ways to ignominiously lose, starting with this revived World Cup.