It’s been over a decade since Alex Ovechkin called Nicklas Backstrom’s name at the NHL draft and Backstrom joined the team a season later. Now, the two are not only thinking about ending their careers together, but they’re also reflecting on how they started.
Recently, the superstars sat down for a far-ranging Capitals Talk podcast with Rob Carlin.
“He really took me under his wing when I got here,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin’s role in those early years. “[He] drove me around and showed me the city. As a young group of guys we were well-connected on the ice and off the ice.”
Halfway through Backstrom’s rookie year, Tarik El-Bashir (then writing for the Washington Post) interviewed the duo about the chemistry they’d only begun to find off the ice.
“I draft him,” Ovechkin said to El-Bashir with a smile, back in 2008 when the gap in his teeth was still new. “We are young. We know we are going to be here a long time. We have to make our relationship good.”
Happy Draft Day babes!
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) June 21, 2019
The early off-ice relationship was far-ranging–it wasn’t all segway rides and shenanigans. Some of the mentoring was downright mundane.
El-Bashir described the duo checking into their hotel during an away game. After teasing each other and “exchanging putdowns and shoves,” they parted ways for mere moments before Ovechkin’s phone rang with a call.
“What’s up, Backie?” Ovechkin replied, before answering the Swede’s urgent inquiry. “Yes, you must wear a suit.”
The relationship between the team’s longest-tenured teammates has been at the core of the franchise over the last decade. The success of that was on display when Ovechkin finally held the Stanley Cup and then handed it off to Backstrom.
But it wasn’t always just the two of them. For a while, it was the “young guns” group, which included defenseman Mike Green, now with the Detroit Red Wings, and winger Alex Semin, who’s currently captaining HC Vityaz of the KHL.
“We was a special group of guys,” Ovechkin said on the podcast. “We support each other. If something’s going wrong, we always can take care of our teammates, and our boys, and this was a very good thing.”
Though Semin and Green were already part of the organization prior to Backstrom’s arrival, Ovechkin still felt like the center’s impact on the team was immediate and significant.
“The year with Nicky came to the league, I think our organization changed right away,” he said to Carlin. “Because we know we have a very good center, we have pretty special young guys, and now he came and we can be good in the future.”
“I think he meant a lot for me, especially the first couple of years,” Backstrom said on the recent anniversary of signing his 10-year contract. “Took me under his wing,” he continued. “Then when we got older I took him under my wing.” Backstrom backed up that change in dynamic by then chiding Ovechkin about his recent bike accident.
“First thing I asked him, ‘did you wear a helmet?’” And he said, ‘yeah.’ So, that’s Ovi. Summer with Ovi,” Backstrom said. “I think that was the worst I’ve seen him. He’s gotta be careful. Should maybe just stick to hockey, right?”
In 2008, they had just begun to find their “long-awaited chemistry.” In 2018, they raised the Stanley Cup. Now, they’re planning how they can leave the league with the same grace and, ideally, at the same time.
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