HELSINKI – Alexander Ovechkin arrived on Wednesday evening, and the NHL goal-scoring champion hopes his high-flying style can help Russia win its second consecutive World Championship. Russia takes on the U.S. in Thursday’s first quarter-final.
“I arrived a couple of hours ago from Washington,” Ovechkin told a packed press conference at Hartwall Arena. “I slept the whole flight. I hope I’m going to sleep well tonight. I might take some sleeping pills.”
This is Ovechkin’s ninth time at the Worlds, and he’s racked up 26 assists and 18 assists since debuting in 2004. The 27-year-old won gold with Russia in 2008 and 2012, and his goal, as always, is clear.
“The goal is to win the tournament again,” he said. “It’s very hard to do it two times in a row. We did it once, and I hope we can.”
The explosive Washington Capitals winger had 32 goals and 24 assists this season, which placed him third in league scoring. He was recently nominated for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP again after previously winning it in 2008 and 2009.
Ovechkin became available to play at the tournament when his Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs in Game Seven of their first-round battle with the New York Rangers.
“I have good contact with my coach and GM [in Washington],” said Ovechkin “I called them right away when the national team called me. I asked if I could come to play for my country right away, and they said it was no problem. I still want to play hockey, not go on vacation, especially when I can play for the national team.”
Ovechkin said he didn’t know yet who his linemates would be or if he would play on left wing or right wing. He switched to the right side under Capitals coach Adam Oates this season and it seemed to rejuvenate his scoring touch.
“We’ll have a little chat with the coaches, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter which linemates I have,” said Ovechkin. “The games left are very important games.”
Getting integrated into a Russian squad that finished second in the Helsinki group and tied with Switzerland for most goals so far (29) should come naturally, according to Ovechkin: “I know all the guys and the coaching staff. It won’t be a problem.”
The Americans aren’t loaded with big names, but under the leadership of head coach Joe Sacco and Paul Stastny, they’ve played well. They gave Russia a good battle in a 5-3 preliminary round loss.
Sacco will use 19-year-old goalie John Gibson, the MVP of the 2013 World Juniors, in just his third World Championship start ever versus the defending champions. Gibson, a product of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, has already beaten Finland 4-1 and Germany 3-0.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at the lineups, but if [Gibson] makes the team and he plays here, he’s probably going to be a good goalie in the future,” said Ovechkin. “The experience will help him.”