To Russia (Hopefully) with Appreciation and Goodwill

Ted LeonsisLast spring Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis bank-rolled an act of unprecedented goodwill for hockey, dispatching two of his communicators and two OFBers to Moscow to cover hockey’s World Championships, in which a number of Caps competed. This coming offseason, he’s poised to organize more goodwill for the game, and pursue a plan of the Caps traveling to Russia — sooner rather than later — to showcase the team and simply celebrate hockey there.
“My bet is that in the next 13 years that Alex [Ovechkin] is here, at some point we’ll get him back [to Russia],” the owner told a couple of Russian journalists this past weekend.
Most assuredly, it won’t take 13 years for the Caps to make such a trip. The smart money is on a late summer excursion in 2009, right before that season’s training camp. The owner has already discussed the idea with team President Dick Patrick and Vice President and General Manager George McPhee.
While management is focused on the team making the playoffs right now, the trip to Russia is an idea Leonsis is committed to pursuing further this offseason. He will be talking to league officials about the idea then.
“Alex is Russian first and foremost,” the owner noted. “He’s a Washington Capital second, and he loves Washington, D.C., and America, but he loves his country, and he’s our player and we would like to do things that make him feel more and more comfortable.”
“The cultural exchange would be good for everybody,” he added.
There are scores of compelling reasons for such a scheme. For starters — and perhaps most importantly — Gary Bettman is supportive of it. The NHL, the owner noted, is encouraging teams to go play in Europe. “I think Gary Bettman would like us to go to Russia,” Leonsis said.
And it just so happens that largely because of Ovechkin the Capitals are the most popular NHL team in Russia. It’s why there are two full-time journalists covering the team for Moscow news organizations here in D.C.
Leonsis views such a trip as primarily an act of goodwill, but in listening to him discuss the idea it’s also clear that he’s made a link between the internationalization of hockey and the Internet. You can bet he won’t send his team over there crossing his fingers for old media coverage.
“In Washington, D.C., you want to be a global team, and I think it’s a reason that players like Alexander Ovechkin feel so comfortable here — it’s a very cosmopolitan city. We would want to show Russia some of the best players in the world, and celebrate the connection [between Russia and the NHL]. It’s not about money,” he said.
“Our team would be very popular in Russia, because of Ovechkin, Semin, and Kozlov,” he added.
There’s another reason driving this idea. Russia, it turns out, is one of the few countries in the world the owner hasn’t visited. “Russia is such a hockey loving country, and we’ve got such great [Russian] players, I think it would be a great thing for us,” he said.
In 1989, the Capitals joined the Calgary Flames in a headline-grabbing tour of the then Soviet Union for a historic series of exhibition games that September. The team traveled to Moscow and Leningrad for eight games against various Russian professional teams. Here’s how high-profile a happening that was: NHL Commissioner John Ziegler made the travel announcement from the United Nations Assembly in New York.
Twenty years later, the Capitals could be returning to Moscow. They’d be carrying a whole lot of Glasnost in their equipment bags. And quite a few thank yous for the Russian hockey development program.

This entry was posted in National Hockey League, OFB in Russia, Ted Leonsis, World Championships. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to To Russia (Hopefully) with Appreciation and Goodwill

  1. Satch says:

    Why go so far away? Let’s expand the fanbase to Baltimore, play a preseason game or two at First Mariner. These Russian fans won’t buy season tickets after all!

  2. Gumpper says:

    Absolutely great idea, particularly if it can be done to open the season with games that count.

  3. P-Mac says:

    I heard about this on 1300 the other day:
    Special ticket offers for Baltimore residents; especially a two-for-one deal, not-this-but-next Sunday, February 24, against New Jersey.

  4. Pingback: On Frozen Blog › Roadtrip to Russia: An Update

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