There are inherent and intrinsic limitations to which outsiders — which includes everyone on planet Earth not wearing a Capitals’ sweater for a living — can comment on the appropriateness of a hockey team’s selection of its captain. This is especially the case with a team like the Capitals, who’ve been forged and assembled with great care the past five years and have forged a distinctive bond with one another, far away from the scrutiny of media and the public. The nature of the hockey captaincy itself is distinctive — baseball has nothing like it, nor does basketball, nor even the NFL. It was for this reason that Capitals’ management articulated the need to take some time to select a replacement for the captaincy vacated by the trading of Chris Clark, to “get it right.”
We should I think assume that the Capitals in this instance got it very, very right in awarding the captaincy of the team to Alexander Ovechkin. For starters, this player has been, since the very day he was drafted, the face of this franchise — indeed, the face of hockey in Washington. But more important I think was his initial reaction when management approached him this week with the idea of his candidacy.
“I said to Bruce [Boudreau] right away, if you want me to be captain, ask the guys if they want me to be the captain,” the Gr8 told media this week.
One way or another, Alexander Ovechkin was going to have a leadership role with the Capitals, precisely because he’s had one for the past five years. But before having one formalized, and specifically in the quasi-sacred designation of wearing the ‘C’ above his heart, he made plain his need to have the support of 20 of his teammates.
“I know they [the players] were really happy when I told them [about Ovi being captain] this morning,” Boudreau said on Tuesday night. “This doesn’t happen often, but the group got up and cheered. I had talked to a lot of them in the last couple of days and they said that Alex was the only choice; he’s our leader, he’s our guy. I think the thing that really shows how he was ready was, when I talked to him a few days ago, he said, ‘I would accept the responsibility, but only if my teammates want me to.’
“So he was already thinking about the team rather than thinking about himself, which is what good captains do.”
Ovechkin, the thinking here is, will bring a most novel set of attributes to this captaincy, ones never quite seen before among his 13 predecessor captains in town.
Foremost among them is a startling humility for a best-in-his-profession talent. And it was that humility that reacted with a ‘only if the guys are ok with it’ qualification to his captain’s nomination.
Where Ovi will offer his greatest leadership traits is obvious: on the ice. Capitals’ management has said as much. It is there that nightly his drive and passion, shift after shift, define his game. And on the ice means the practice sheet just as much as the game ice of the regular season and postseason. One of the most endearing qualities about this extraordinary young performer is his elemental love for his craft. When no-name free agents and nondescript draft picks have assembled at Kettler Capitals for pre-training camp skates over the past five summers it wasn’t uncommon to see Ovechkin there as well, envious of their early start on a season. Occasionally he would even skate with them. This reminded me of former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird, who too couldn’t be kept off a competition’s stage if competing was taking place, and insisted on participating in free agent and rookie camps and such.
Ovechkin’s passion for hockey is seen, and heard, even in practice drills, and in his playful goofiness during those moments before practices starts. He simply loves being on the ice, every day. The hockey season is brutally long, and this unwavering and insatiable love of craft is a wonderful attribute to bring to this captaincy.
But I’m of the opinion that Ovi will wear his ‘C’ not only for the Caps but for hockey more broadly here and to some extent for Washington the beleaguered sports town, whether he realizes it or not. No need to belabor the present plight of the Wizards and Nats and Redskins. But that something unprecedented, something of a sporting uprising, is taking place here caught even the notice of the brief visiting Al Michaels of NBC’s national football telecast team here just a few weekends back. Michaels told his national television audience that night of his daytime walks through Washington, and his encountering not so much Redskins’ paraphernalia adorning the locals but rather the Red of Hockey here. And he pointed out this new-found allegiance as a uniform conspicuously apparent within FedEx Field on football gamedays as well. Alexander Ovechkin deserves no small credit for this phenomenon.
And it will blossom even more broadly under his leadership here over the next decade-plus.