Home Hockey Alex Ovechkin Skates Into Canada’s Ukrainian Enclave as a Scorned Star

Alex Ovechkin Skates Into Canada’s Ukrainian Enclave as a Scorned Star

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The hockey star Alex Ovechkin, heart amongst Russian skilled athletes within the public’s anger over the war in Ukraine, performed earlier than probably the most unsympathetic crowd but.

Ovechkin, President Vladimir V. Putin’s high-profile supporter, and his Washington Capitals teammates confronted the Oilers on Wednesday night time in Edmonton, Alberta, house to considered one of Canada’s largest concentrations of the Ukrainian diaspora.

Andriy Tovstiuk of Edmonton works with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress organizing fund-raising, rallies, demonstrations and humanitarian aid efforts in Alberta for Ukraine. He was at Wednesday’s recreation at Rogers Place.

“I think we’re going to be loud, we’re going to be fired up,” mentioned Tovstiuk, whose group is working with each the Oilers and the Calgary Flames to lift cash for Ukraine by way of its 50-50 attracts, which often hit greater than $1 million. “But we’re all really wanting to focus on supporting Ukraine and really getting behind everything that’s going on right now.

“It’s an emotional time for everybody, and we really encourage everybody to use this as a rallying point for Ukraine.”

Ovechkin is considered one of Russia’s most well-known athletes, and his friendship with Putin, who has a singular passion for ice hockey, is broadly identified. The friendship was unwavering after Putin invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, with Ovechkin beginning a web-based social motion in 2017 to assist Putin successful the 2018 Russian election.

Edmonton is house to 160,000 folks of Ukrainian descent, and there are 370,000 in Alberta, in keeping with the 2016 Canadian census. There are roughly 1.4 million folks of Ukrainian background residing in Canada, greater than anyplace outdoors Ukraine and Russia.

Officers from the Capitals, who’ve 4 Russian gamers on their roster together with Ovechkin, had mentioned safety measures at Rogers Place with their Oilers counterparts. The Oilers didn’t reply to requests for remark. The Capitals declined to talk on the report.

Tim Shipton, an government vp of Oilers Leisure Group, issued an announcement on Monday: “The Edmonton Oilers stand in solidarity alongside the people of Ukraine. As we saw during Saturday’s home game, Oilers fans were very respectful in showing their support for Ukraine.”

On Wednesday night time, Viter, a Ukrainian people choir, carried out the Canadian anthem in English and Ukrainian. Oilers gamers continued to sport Ukrainian flag stickers on their helmets. Followers sporting the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag dotted the stands and hung flags all through the world. Each time Ovechkin touched the puck, he was loudly booed. He didn’t rating, and Edmonton gained, 4-3, in additional time on a aim from the star heart Connor McDavid.

On Tuesday, forward of their first recreation of the season in Alberta, the Capitals issued an announcement saying they “join the National Hockey League in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the loss of innocent life.” The assertion continued: “We urge and hope for a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. The Capitals also stand in full support of our Russian players and their families overseas. We realize they are being put in a difficult situation and stand by to offer our assistance to them and their families.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ovechkin, who is among the N.H.L.’s greatest stars — two targets in a 5-4 victory on Tuesday in opposition to the Flames tied him for third on the profession targets checklist with Jaromir Jagr at 766 — has been jeered and booed throughout street video games. His picture was even scorned in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday when he appeared in a tribute video for the previous Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.

Ovechkin held a information convention on Feb. 25 supposed to distance himself from Putin and assist for the Russian invasion. “I am not in politics. Like, I’m an athlete,” he mentioned. He added, with out mentioning Putin, “Please, no more war.”

As an alternative of calming his detractors, Ovechkin discovered himself below criticism from supporters of the conflict in his house nation and opponents of it in the remainder of the world. This resulted in a extreme backlash on Ovechkin’s social media accounts from Russian supporters, and he was suggested to not change his Instagram profile image as a result of it will not go over nicely in Russia.

That’s the reason Ovechkin’s profile image, displaying him with Putin, on his verified Instagram account, which has 1.6 million followers, remained as of Wednesday afternoon. There was a plan to alter the image to an emblem for world peace after the information convention, however since Ovechkin’s spouse, two youngsters and oldsters are at the moment in Russia, it was determined the photograph of him and Putin would keep.

Thus far, Ovechkin and Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov are the one Russian gamers to publicly point out the conflict. Zadorov posted a Ukrainian flag emoji and the phrases “No war” and “STOP IT!!!” on Instagram the day after the invasion.

In line with the participant agent Dan Milstein, who represents dozens of Russian and Belarusian gamers with N.H.L. contracts, his shoppers and their households are dealing with a barrage of abuse and profanity on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

“I have had wives of my players receiving very disturbing messages,” Milstein mentioned. “The comments under children’s pictures are Nazi baby, get back to Russia, we don’t need you here, go home, among other things.”

Milstein, who’s a local of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was the one particular person linked with the N.H.L. who would agree to talk on the report for this text, with others citing worry of repercussions for associates or shoppers who’ve members of the family in Russia.

An N.H.L. spokesman didn’t reply to requests for remark from Commissioner Gary Bettman. However the league is working with police companies in a few of its 32 group cities to offer additional patrols across the arenas and houses of gamers.

Milstein mentioned his Russian shoppers on N.H.L. rosters need nothing to do with the conflict in Ukraine however worry the results of talking out.

“Of course, they’re worried not only about their families but also they are extremely worried about what is happening in Russia,” he mentioned. “My clients don’t want the war, my clients want world peace. My clients are concerned for all the people in Ukraine and Russia, everybody.”

The hockey tools maker CCM mentioned final week it will cease utilizing Ovechkin and different Russian gamers in international advertising and marketing campaigns.

Russian and Belarusian gamers and groups have been barred from all worldwide competitions by the Worldwide Ice Hockey Federation. Additionally they face requires sanctions from followers, some governments and even the Hockey Corridor of Famer Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky, 61, and nonetheless probably the most influential folks in hockey, referred to as for Russia to be barred from the rescheduled 2022 males’s world junior event shortly earlier than the I.I.H.F. barred the nation. He later defined on the Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 that he was considering of the big numbers of individuals of Ukrainian descent who stay in Canada, particularly Edmonton, the place the event will probably be performed in August.

“I just couldn’t relate to how we were going to welcome a country that is at war, to a city that has tons of Ukrainian family members that are still living in Ukraine,” mentioned Gretzky, who gained 4 Stanley Cup championships with Edmonton. “And I got some pushback from people that said, ‘Why punish the Russian kids?’

“It’s not about punishing the Russian kids. What about the Ukrainian kids that are being killed daily? The Ukrainian kids that are 12 or 14 years old, going to war. I don’t want anybody to be punished. I just think it makes common sense that we shouldn’t compete against this country right now, while they’re at war against an innocent country.”

Final week, the N.H.L. condemned the Russian invasion in an official assertion and mentioned it was instantly suspending enterprise relationships in Russia. The league suspended ties with the Kontinental Hockey League, which is essentially based mostly in Russia, this week. N.H.L. groups had been advised to cease communications with Ok.H.L. groups and brokers based mostly in Russia.

The N.H.L. statement additionally made clear the league’s place on Russian gamers, saying they “play in the N.H.L. on behalf of their N.H.L. clubs, and not on behalf of Russia.”

Milstein and different participant brokers mentioned barring Russian N.H.L. gamers made no sense and would play into the fingers of Putin, who continues the Russian authorities custom of utilizing elite athletes as propaganda.

The participant brokers additionally criticized the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella group that oversees the three main junior leagues. The C.H.L. not too long ago introduced it canceled this yr’s Russia-Canada collection. Additionally it is contemplating a ban on Russian and Belarusian prospects from its import draft, which distributes teenage gamers from nations outdoors North America to C.H.L. groups. Doing so, Milstein mentioned, would primarily assist Russia, which has reluctance over athletes enjoying elsewhere.

Whereas some observers essential of Ovechkin, just like the Corridor of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek, would love him barred for his assist of Putin, others suppose suspending him and different Russians wouldn’t assist the scenario.

Slava Malamud, a trainer in Baltimore who was a journalist for a few years in Russia, has a powerful following on social media as a staunch critic of Ovechkin. Whereas Malamud mentioned he wouldn’t have an issue with Ovechkin’s being barred from the N.H.L. due to his assist for Putin, he didn’t suppose punishing all Russian gamers could be truthful.

“We’re not punishing Russians for being Russian,” he mentioned. “You can’t help where you are born. But players who have explicitly supported Putin, first and foremost Ovechkin, have this on their conscience. He is stained by this. He did it very willingly.”



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