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World Cup

Alex Ovechkin may be playing his last World Cup

Team Russia forward wants to make best of opportunity to win in Toronto

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Forward Alex Ovechkin was still a few weeks before his 19th birthday when he walked into Team Russia's locker room prior to its initial training camp practice for the World Cup of Hockey 2004.

Ovechkin remembers being wide-eyed while being surrounded by players he idolized, including some who were having great success in the NHL such as Alexei Kovalev, Alexei Yashin, Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Gonchar. 

"I was 18. Just to be on the team was an unbelievable experience," Ovechkin said Monday following Team Russia's first training camp practice for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "To play with all the stars who I watched on TV and be in the same locker room and to watch all that they do was great."

Ovechkin didn't make his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals until more than a year later. Now, he's approaching his 31st birthday on Sept. 17, which is the day before Team Russia plays its World Cup preliminary round opener against Team Sweden at Air Canada Centre in Toronto (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports).

Video: Alex Ovechkin looks ahead to the World Cup of Hockey

Ovechkin, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, 37, and Datsyuk, 38, are the only players back with Team Russia from that World Cup. Although the NHL and the NHL Players' Association have already committed to holding another World Cup in 2020, Ovechkin isn't sure how many more chances he'll get to play in a tournament like this one.

"It's going to be my second [World Cup]," he said. "For me, it was a great memory to play against great players. Maybe it's going be my last World Cup. I don't know."

The chances appear strong that Ovechkin will still be around in 2020, but he can sense how quickly life can fly by with 11 NHL seasons under his belt. He is a married man after wedding Russian model Nastya Shubskaya this summer and, according to those around him, wants to start a family next.

"One thing I've learned about Ovi is he's very family-oriented," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said last week. "You see that with the way he [interacts] with his parents. I think he's in a great spot. I'm very, very happy for him. I'll give him a hug when he gets here and congratulate him. It's a good step for him."

Although Ovechkin declined to discuss it Monday, his recent wedding was a topic of discussion among his Team Russia teammates when they began gathering in St. Petersburg for training camp.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm 5: Ovechkin fires a one-timer for PPG

"It's nice to see guys get married and get his own family [started]," defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. "It's always cool. We all said congratulations to him and stuff like that. It's good for him."

Orlov, who is also teammates with Ovechkin on the Capitals, hasn't noticed any difference yet between the married Ovechkin and the single Ovechkin, saying, "He's still Ovi."

And he's still the same player who has dominated in scoring goals since he entered the NHL with 525 in 839 regular-season games. The next closest in goals over that span is Jarome Iginla, who has 361.

Ovechkin has reached the 50-goal mark seven times, including each of the past three seasons. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have had more 50-goal seasons with nine apiece.

He's won the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award three times each and Rocket Richard Trophy six times, including the past four seasons.

It's no wonder Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov's response to practicing on the same line with Ovechkin on Monday was, "I'm not complaining about it."

"Everybody knows he's got a great shot," Kucherov said. "Just try to find him, give him the puck and the rest of it is going to happen."

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Kucherov nets second to even game late

Kucherov, 23, is also an elite player. He led the Lightning with 66 points last season, but in his first experience representing Russia, he's as wide-eyed as Ovechkin was 12 years ago.

Although Team Russia coach Oleg Znarok has yet to name a World Cup captain, Ovechkin is one of the obvious candidates.

"He and [Evgeni] Malkin and Datsyuk, all these guys they have a lot of respect," Kucherov said. "We are young guys. We're just trying to follow them and listen to them. It's nice to have them."

What Malkin and Datsyuk have that Ovechkin doesn't is a Stanley Cup ring. That remains a driving force in his career after the Capitals were eliminated by Malkin's Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

As Ovechkin noted, "Nothing you can do [about it] right now," with the World Cup about to begin, but it's not something he's completely forgotten.

"I'm looking forward to getting ready for the season, having different teammates, so we'll see," he said.

For Team Russia to have success, Ovechkin believes it needs to, "Just play our game."

"I don't know how [good] teams are going to be," he said. "Obviously, the names are unbelievable. Everybody has stars out there, but we'll see. We just have to be ourselves and just play how we can."

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