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Summer with Stanley

Ovechkin has memorable weekend with Cup in Russia's Tom Gulitti reflects on two days with Capitals captain

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- Now I know what it's like to travel in the entourage of a rock star.

At least that's what it felt like following around Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin while he had the Stanley Cup in Moscow on Saturday and Sunday.

Although I'm not part of Ovechkin's inner circle, he was kind enough to allow me to tag along on the periphery for some of the bigger moments he experienced while sharing the world's most famous trophy with his hometown. If I had any doubts about the Cup's fame outside of North America, seeing the public reaction to it in Moscow blew them away.

Actually, it was difficult to tell which was more of an attraction -- Ovechkin or the Cup. But the combination created almost a perfect storm that drew everyone in its path to it.

That was evident walking into the FIFA World Cup Fan Fest at Moscow State University on Saturday. Ovechkin was nearly swallowed up by a horde of Russian media and uniformed security while he carried the Cup toward a small stage he would stand on to pose for photos with fans for the next 2 1/2 hours.

Most of us who accompanied Ovechkin in the van to the fan fest were caught in the crowd behind him, and he had to come back and instruct security to let us through.

The mob that gathered around Ovechkin was much bigger when he brought the Cup to Red Square on Sunday afternoon. He had no security with him for that unannounced appearance, unless you count Hockey Hall of Fame Cup keepers Howie Borrow and Mario Della-Savia, Capitals vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov, and Ovechkin's agent, David Abrutyn.

They did their best to guide Ovechkin through the growing massive crowd of tourists on his way into the center of Red Square. Although many jostled for position to take selfies in front of Ovechkin as he walked or photos and video of him as he passed by, they never threatened to get too close.

Video: Ovechkin visits Red Square with the Stanley Cup

And when he stopped to pose for a photo in front of historic St. Basil's Cathedral, they moved back when he asked for a clear view of the cathedral behind him.

Those frenzied 15 minutes when Ovechkin walked into and back out of Red Square were among the craziest scenes I've witnessed. His calm among that mayhem was impressive, as was his strength.

Ovechkin must have walked a quarter-mile in each direction carrying the Cup in front of him, or lifting it briefly over his head. The Cup weighs 35 pounds; it must have felt like 200 by the time he returned to the police car that brought him there.

He mentioned later that his arms were shaking from the physical strain of carrying the Cup during that journey.

This was my second time in Russia. I was in St. Petersburg in September 2016 for Team Russia's training camp for the World Cup of Hockey.

I was able to walk to most of the places I needed to go in St. Petersburg. I needed to take a few more Ubers in Moscow and had trouble a few times finding them when they picked me up at my hotel.

I don't remember having this issue with Uber in St. Petersburg, but a few times the app would say the Uber had arrived yet it was nowhere to be found. Other times, the Uber wouldn't bring me to my exact destination, stopping a few blocks away instead.

It would have helped if I spoke some Russian, but I don't. So that added to my confusion.

Video: Alex Ovechkin at the World Cup Fan Fest

Fortunately, I was with Isabelle Khurshudyan from the Washington Post for a lot of the trip. She speaks Russian and was able to communicate with Uber drivers when we didn't end up quite where we wanted to go, or when some roads were blocked on Saturday night to give people room to walk around and watch Russia's World Cup soccer quarterfinal against Croatia, which was being played in Sochi.

Other than a few brief periods of rain, the weather was beautiful for most of my time in Moscow, with the temperature in the 70s (Fahrenheit), so there were a lot of people walking around outdoors late into the evening.

That added to festive atmosphere brought to the city by the World Cup. On Friday night, we walked past a crowd of people dancing in the middle of the street and in front of a car that stopped there with music blaring out its open doors.

Isabelle was also a huge help in translating much of what was being said in Russian during Ovechkin's appearances on the stage at the fan fest and at Moscow Dynamo's training facility. Sergey Demidov, who is's Moscow-based reporter, also helped with translating and identifying the various Russian celebrities at Ovechkin's party at Karaoke Royal Arbat on Saturday night.

Traveling with Isabelle and Washington Post photographer Jonathan Newton (thanks to him for showing me how to use the time-lapse feature on my iPhone) helped make this trip a memorable one. We shared some good times and good meals together.

I don't know when or if I'll return to Moscow, but it will be difficult to top this experience.

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