There once was a time when Detroit was at the center of a Russian hockey revolution and the "Russian Five" helped the Red Wings to the top of the NHL.
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In recent years, the greatest contingent of Russian players on this continent has shifted East to Washington, D.C., and no player has been more responsible for that than Alex Ovechkin
. The Capitals have dressed as many as five Russians at a time, and guys like Ovechkin, Alexander Semin
, Semyon Varlamov
, Viktor Kozlov
and Sergei Fedorov
have been pivotal to the franchise's resurgence in the past five seasons.
Ovechkin is not only the face of the franchise, he is the reason why there is likely to be more Russians playing hockey in America's capitol city in the future. While other teams have taken fewer Russian players in the NHL Entry Draft in recent years, general manager George McPhee
's stance has been that Ovechkin's presence will help in recruiting players to play for the Capitals.
"When I was younger, my favorite player was Mario Lemieux
, but as I've gotten older I think the Russian colony here in Washington has become my favorites," former Capitals prospect Dmitry Kugryshev
said during one of the team's developmental camps.
The arrival of Ovechkin helped Semin get more comfortable with living in Washington and playing for the Capitals. Adding Kozlov as a free agent and Fedorov in a trade helped Ovechkin and Semin grow and turn the Capitals into Stanley Cup contenders.
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Fedorov, Kozlov and Varlamov are gone now, but another wave of Russians could be arriving soon to help Ovechkin and Semin.
Ovechkin has taken an active role in helping the next generation of Russian prospects. Varlamov, Kugryshev and other young countrymen have all been welcome guests at Ovechkin's Arlington, Va., home during summer development camps and preseason training camps.
"They spend all day at my house with me, and my mom cook for everybody," Ovechkin said of Varlamov, Kugryshev and ex-Capitals prospect Viktor Dovgan
. "I just try to help young guys out. I remember when I came here [Dainius Zubrus
] helped me a lot, and I just try to take care of them."
In recent seasons, other Washington draft picks have also stayed with Ovechkin as he helps them try to get acclimated with a new country and a new culture. Rookie Dmitry Orlov
and top prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov
and Stan Galiev are two of Washington's best hopes for continued success through player development.
Zubrus wasn't alone in helping Ovechkin when he first came to Washington for the 2005-06 season. One of Ovechkin's childhood friends from Moscow, Nikita Kashirsky
, attended a nearby high school. Eventually, Kashirsky played college hockey and earned an invite to one of Washington's summer camps.
"I've been there a bunch of times and he trusts me enough to stay there," Kashirsky said. "As soon as I got invited [to the camp] he offered for me to stay at his house. He's a great friend, and I am taking care of his house -- trying to keep it clean."