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Ovechkin, Others Speak in Conference Call

Caps captain and three of his Metro Division foes participate in Thursday afternoon conference call during NHL's "pause"

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

It was two weeks ago today that the NHL hit the pause button on the 2019-20 regular season because of the ongoing surge of the Covid-19 virus around the globe. In a normal world, the Caps would be getting ready for a game against the New York Rangers tonight, but we are still fully in pause mode and a long way from normalcy.

With that backdrop, the league made a handful of players available via video conference call today, a group that included Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. Along with fellow Metropolitan Division players Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anders Lee of the New York islanders and P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, Ovechkin fielded pre-submitted questions from the hockey media at large, and some of those queries were posed to the players in a call that lasted just under 45 minutes.

None of these guys has played any hockey in the last few months, so the questions are more about their day-to-day existence and how they're dealing with self-quarantine.

"Me and my family are in Washington," says Ovechkin, "staying home, keeping busy. Lots of stuff to do at the house; play with the little one, and we're expecting another one in a couple of months. Try to do some workout as well, but it's getting boring.

"First week was a good thing. We were relaxing, we were chilling. And now it's kind of getting boring right now."

"Everybody wants to get back to playing hockey," says Subban, who is riding the storm out in L.A. while the other three have remained near their respective NHL homes. "Especially for the teams that are in the playoffs, I can only imagine what it's like losing the season or putting the season on pause with that many games left to go."

Foligno's Blue Jackets have made a recent surge into playoff spot, but whether they'll be able to pick up where they left off is up in the air. The virus is currently holding all of the cards.

"It's hard," says the Columbus captain. "It's a mental game right now, but we know it's for the right reasons. I think you hold onto that and seeing what's going on around the world has kind of kept everything in perspective for us."

During the season, players are constantly on the ice and off-ice workouts are frequent as well. But not having access to team facilities or gyms, they've had to improvise in order to stay in shape in case the season resumes at some point.

"Well, I ordered a Peloton," says Lee. "I'm in an apartment here, and our apartment gym got shut down and everything. We have a couple dogs, so I've gone on some jogs with them and one of them is pulling me, and I'm pulling the other one. Just trying to figure it out, doing little things we can, and our teams send stuff that we can do - bodyweight and all that stuff within your apartment or your confined space, but yeah it's a lot different."

Subban has more fitness equipment available to him on the West Coast than he had back in the Garden State.

"In New Jersey," begins, "I didn't have much equipment there obviously because I'm just so used to doing all my workout at the rink. But here in LA, I'm a little bit more lucky; I have more gym equipment at my place so I can just do my workouts and just try to stick to as close to a routine as you can.

"It's hard because you're anticipating the season coming back. But at the same token, it's so much time and when you're not skating, there's nothing you can do that's going to mimic skating. So you just try to stay in the best shape as you can, and stick to your diet."

Video: Alex Ovechkin on Metro Division Video Call

As he has done at this time of year in recent seasons, Ovechkin has brought his Russia-based trainer Pavel Burlachenko to the D.C. area, so he is getting some work in with him.

"Actually, the last couple of years before the playoffs," says Ovechkin, "my personal trainer came to Washington and started working out with me before the playoffs to get ready for that period of the season. With this situation, he is here and I'm lucky enough to have him here, and we do some workouts at the gym I have in my house. I have a small gym, and we just go run in the street, play some soccer, ride the bike and try to get busy.

"I'm lucky enough to have my coach - my trainer - with me and he has helped me a lot, obviously. You get used to working out with the team all year, and then right now you're kind of by yourself and it's hard to push yourself to that mode.

"He is with me, and sometimes I don't want to do it, but he says, 'Okay, ley's go! We have to workout.' It's a good time to sit on the couch, watch TV and play with the kids, but you never know when the season is coming back and you have to be in shape.

"The biggest thing you realize in this is how spoiled we are with the way we train," says Foligno. "It's way different from the calisthenics that the older guys would do, and you're kind of going back to "Rocky" mentality where you're doing push-ups and sit-ups, and punching the cow and the cadaver and all that.

"I'm lucky I have a gym here, so I've been able to keep a normal routine. I have a strength coach that I work with back home and we've been doing this exact thing, Zoom workouts where he'll kind of walk me through things.

"It gives me something to look forward to every day, but it's a unique time where you're caught in between gearing up to play, or are you getting ready to start training for next season? I think guys are caught in between. You don't want to be caught where you're hurting your team if you do come back, but you also don't want to kill yourself to cause injury where we're not really working out the same way we would in the summer - where it kind of feels like summer right now - where you just kind of abruptly stopped and there's no skating. I think a lot of us take time off from skating at the season's end, and so that's where you kind of get caught right now."

Under normal circumstances, we'd be 10 days away from the end of the regular season. But right now, we don't know if the regular season will resume, we don't know when it will resume if it does, and we don't know what shape a Stanley Cup playoff tournament might take. Each of the four players was given an opportunity to expounds on his thoughts as to what should happen from here.

"It's hard," says Ovechkin. "First of all, we don't know when this coronavirus is going to end. I think we have 13 games left before the playoffs. I don't know how many [games] you guys have, but for us, it's better if the playoffs start right now. We don't want to play those extra games. But I know that guys who fight for a playoff spot - and we're still fighting for a playoff spot - but some guys might want those extra games. Of course, the more games we play it's going to be better for our fans and it's going to be better for teams fighting for the playoffs. But I'd rather start playoffs right away."

"When we do come back," says Lee, "I think we're all just geared up and ready to roll and ready to figure this out, whether it's finishing the regular season or hopping into the playoffs or playing games or all those things.

"The format is going to be what it is, whatever's best for the league and for the players and the fans so it's tough to really project any of that. Every team is in a different position. But like I said, it's got to be the best for everyone involved and safety of everyone that's coming to the rink, and the players too, and how it all leads into next year and all that stuff. Those decisions can't be made right now, so we'll leave it at that."

"I'm not gonna speak for these guys, but just in my head," says Foligno. "You've got a lot of guys - Ovi has logged a lot of miles in the postseason the past few years - and you've got to think about the health and safety of our star players as well. When you're playing that many games a year - and now we're going to try to push it into that late in the summer - and then possibly right into another season a few months later, and then postseason again for some guys. That's a lot of games in one year that we're not used to. And I'm not saying that guys won't grind out a way to do it, because as hockey players we will find a way. But you've got to think about the longevity of guys' careers and their health as well.

"And then also on top of that you have, possibly - and no offense to you, P.K.-but in your situation, what if you don't end up playing, and then we come back in November? That's a long time for you guys to be off. Is that advantageous, or is that worse? There are a lot of things that as this thing pushes on, is that going to hurt us or help us? So there's so much that we have to think about."

If the league skips those final 13 games, Ovechkin will finish with 48 goals, missing an opportunity for what might have been his ninth season with 50 or more goals, which would match Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most in league history. It would also mean 13 fewer games that Ovechkin might have used to close the gap between himself (706 career goals) and Gretzky's all-time record (894).

"Well, of course you want to score 50," says Ovechkin, "but right now, like everybody is saying, the most important thing is to be safe and to get this [virus] done. I'm sure it sucks to not score 50 or not getting other milestones, but you have to think about your family, fans, and to be more to be more safe. I'm pretty sure the sooner this is going to be over, the sooner we start back playing hockey.

"Yes, it'll be nice to score again 50 goals or whatever to reach another milestone, but right now in our minds, it's just to be safe because it's a scary situation for all the people around, not only us. You think about those little things, but as soon as you start thinking about worldwide and what's happening in the world, it's scary. So my mind right now is not about future goals, or catching The Great One or somebody else. My mind right now is to do the best I can do and my family can do to be safe, and to get over it."

Subban went on to say that if Ovechkin could overtake Gretzky, it would be good for hockey.

"I think that if he did catch Wayne, it would be great for the game," says Subban. "We see it in other sports; we see what Lebron's doing in basketball, we've seen what Tom Brady has done [in the NFL]. In hockey, we see it as the years go by and by, a lot of these legends and Hall of Famers that are there they're getting older and we need to have people that currently you can touch, and you can watch, and you can talk to, and see and watch on TV that are are setting milestones as well.

"I think it's great for the game. I think all of us on this call and everybody probably listening is a fan of Wayne Gretzky, and he's such a great ambassador for the game. He's also promoting it and would love to I'm sure see Ovi break his record. As long as Ovi can stay healthy, and that's why I think these times are so important - both away from hockey and also in the game itself - to make sure that you do protect your best players so that they have the best opportunity to perform to the best of their ability when they get on the ice.

"I hope he does get there, I just hope he doesn't score against us. He scored [No.] 700 against us. I'm sick and tired of seeing it, but it's good for the game, so I wish you the best of luck."

Ovechkin responded, "Thanks, bro."

Ideally, we'll have these guys and hundreds more back on the ice soon and playing hockey. But for now, two weeks into the "pause" and with no end in sight, it was reassuring to see and hear that they're missing the game, the routine, the atmosphere and everything about NHL hockey as much as the rest of us are.

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