Alexander Ovechkin was 10-years-old, a youngster from an affluent family living in Russia and dreaming of one day playing in the NHL when his world got turned upside down.
Sergei Ovechkin, Alexander's older brother, the person who served as his bridge to the game of hockey, who understood his passion and his drive to be the very best, who believed in his ultimate dream, died in a car accident.
“He is my idol,” Ovechkin, who rarely discusses his brother, told NHL.com. “At that moment I realized life is that, when it's gone it's gone. You can't get back. You have to take from life what you can.”
You'll have to canvas the world to find someone who takes more from life than Ovechkin.
Using his brother as inspiration, the Washington Capitals' superstar left wing is living his dream -- the dream -- and it's something he refuses to take for granted. Instead, Ovechkin combines his youthful exuberance and supreme talent to form one of the most unique personalities the NHL has ever seen.
“Of course in a game you have to be serious, but still you have to have fun,” Ovechkin said. “I'm always on the go. I just have fun here. When you're dream comes true you have to have great fun.”
Ovechkin started dreaming way back when he was 2-years-old. His parents still have a treasured picture of him at that age holding a toy stick and helmet he grabbed from the shelves of a Russian toy store.
“My father (Mikhail), I remember, he would go on some trips and bring me some goalie helmets,” Ovechkin said. “I didn't know what it was, except it was something about hockey, and when I was a little kid everything was about hockey, hockey, hockey.”
That dream has resulted in the most lucrative contract in NHL history: A 13-year deal worth about $124 million that he amazingly negotiated himself, with the help of his family, in owner Ted Leonsis' office
He surely has some mind-blowing money coming his way, but Ovechkin says he won't give in to the greed and selfishness that often get stapled to the corners of massive contracts.
“My family always had money,” Ovechkin said. “I had everything I wanted when I was a little kid like expensive sticks and fancy uniforms. I always had money, and money doesn't change me. I stay the same way, stay the same person.”
Not according to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
“It's changed him alright,” Boudreau told NHL.com. “He's gotten better.”
Amazing? Yes, but true.
Since signing his historic deal on Jan. 10, Ovechkin has been on a tear of mythic proportions. He has 15 goals and nine assists since his John Hancock hit that contract and his Capitals have become a legit contender for the Southeast Division title.
“It's not like he does it once in a while or every couple of months,” Caps defenseman Mike Green told NHL.com. “It's every game.”
Ovechkin was named the NHL's First Star of the Month in January after leading all scorers with 22 points in 13 games, capped by his incredible four-goal, one-assist performance in a 5-4 win over Montreal on Jan. 31.
Ovechkin is now only 13 goals away from 60, a number no one has reached since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. He’s capable of a trophy sweep at the NHL Awards Show on June 21: Hart (MVP), Art Ross (most points), and Maurice Richard (most goals).
“I could have signed a shorter deal,” Ovechkin said, “but I like this team.”
The team and its fans love him.
Who doesn't appreciate someone who is always smiling, happy, cracking jokes or messing around with teammates? There's literally nothing that gets him down, not even the broken nose he suffered in Montreal the same night he scored those four goals.
“It was my dream, and when you're dream comes true, you just have fun with it and enjoy your time,” Ovechkin said. “After a tough loss you're not always feeling good, but you have to understand it's a game and you can't do everything all the time.”
It helps that Ovechkin comes from parents who were not only athletic -- Mikhail was a pro soccer player, and Tatyana, his mother, won Olympic gold medals in 1976 and 1980 as a member of the Soviet women's basketball team -- but morally sound.
They taught Ovechkin how to be an elite athlete and how to act the part, too. He may have a lot of fun, but it's wholesome fun.
I wish every hockey player could have the experience I had with my parents. - Alexander Ovechkin
“When you're growing up, you have to understand you never stay the same guy. You have to grow up and take care of yourself,” Ovechkin said. “My parents helped me a lot. I owe a lot to my parents. Lots of hockey players, they work hard, but they do some bad things and now they're working in a shop and doing nothing. I just knew I had my goal and I wanted to get this goal.
“I wish every hockey player could have the experience I had with my parents.”
Ovechkin's talent and charisma has turned into a bonanza for both fans in the Potomac region, and the NHL as a whole. There's arguably no one in the League who wears the look of a hockey player better than Ovechkin.
His hair, when it's not underneath his helmet, flops around. His face, when it's not shadowed by his smoked visor, is rugged. His smile makes dentists cringe, but it's ideal on a hockey player dubbed as the ultimate power forward.
Ovechkin is even more marketable these days because his English has improved dramatically since his draft day. He hasn't used a translator since his rookie season, and now he's just about fluent.
“Even guys that don't know him can see the way he is as a person and that draws you to him,” Green said. “No matter what team you're cheering for, you want to see him play. And there is not a goal that he scores that he doesn't celebrate like it's his last one.”
Why shouldn't he?
Ovechkin learned a dozen years ago how fleeing life can be, so he's living his now.
“It's all about fun,” he said.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org