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On Monday, December 9, 2019, our website, Russian Machine Never Breaks, will celebrate its tenth anniversary. (Come to our party!). Over the years, lots of people expressed puzzlement at why we named our hockey website after the United States’ geopolitical rival.
The name is actually a quote uttered by Alex Ovechkin thirteen years ago. Recently I spoke to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir, the beat writer who first reported the viral quote, about its origin.
“It’s a funny story, and I think it’s been told wrong over the years,” El-Bashir told me. “It’s why when people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, tell me the story about Russian machine never breaks’ and they kind of give me their version of it, I usually go, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s about right.’”
On Wednesday, October 25, 2006, the Washington Capitals defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 at Pepsi Center. Ovechkin scored the fifth goal of what would end up being a 46-goal sophomore season, rifling a wrist shot past Avs goaltender Peter Budaj from his office.
Ovechkin also delivered one of the biggest hits of his career, shattering the glass by way of Avalanche defenseman Karlis Skrastins.
The game marked the Capitals’ first road win of the season, but it came at a cost.
“I recall that Shaone Morrisonn took a wrist shot and hit Alex Ovechkin in the foot,” El-Bashir said. Ovechkin crumpled to the ice in pain.
“He came up limping and was helped off by his teammates,” El-Bashir said. There were 2.7 seconds remaining in the game. Ovechkin, who had 17 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time, did not return.
“Afterward, Ovechkin wasn’t made available to the media, and there wasn’t much information on the injury,” El-Bashir said. “Everyone was sufficiently freaked out because, at that point, anything involving Ovechkin was the most important thing that happened. If you see a player of his caliber go down with an injury, everyone started thinking the worst. I couldn’t get a great update. You know hockey is ridiculously secretive about injuries. So, I filed my story, and there wasn’t a whole lot of information.”
The next day, on Thursday, El-Bashir had a flight from Denver to Vancouver. The Capitals had practice later that day and played the Canucks Friday night.
“There was some sort of weather-related delay, I believe, in Denver,” El-Bashir said. “And so I get into Vancouver… Now, remember, I was a young beat writer with the Washington Post when I was first starting to travel to all the cities. I had never been to Vancouver before. It was my first trip there. I get in and I’m late. As a young beat writer, this is the first time I’ve been tasked with covering something important. I’m freaking out.
“Inside my head, I’m going, ‘Oh my god, they’re practicing in Burnaby, British Columbia. I’ve never been here before. I still have to go through customs. Oh my god, I’m late. It wasn’t my fault. The star player that everyone cares about in the NHL is hurt, and I’m going to miss if he’s at practice or not. Oh my god, I’m going to get fired,'” El-Bashir said. “I just remembered being freaked out about that.”
Eventually, El-Bashir got through customs. He recalled the customs officer asked him if Ovechkin would play the next night. The customs officer was going to take his son to the Canucks game, and Ovechkin was already his son’s favorite player. This was the day that the beat reporter began to understand just how popular Ovi was north of the border. From there, El-Bashir got his rental car.
“This is my first time traveling abroad by myself,” El-Bashir said. “This is before we had Apple Maps in our hands. Before, we could just get in with no navigation and go — beep beep beep — here’s where I’m going! So of course I hit some traffic leaving the airport. I also got ensnarled in some traffic on the highway to the arena.”
When El-Bashir arrived, the practice was already over.
“It’s wrapped up,” he said. “The players have already talked to the media, and they’re on the bus at that point. I was already freaked out, and now I’m like ‘oh my god, oh my god.’ I remember I did catch coach Glen Hanlon – either he hadn’t gotten on the bus yet or the PR person produced him somehow.”
“He’s fine,” Hanlon told El-Bashir of Ovechkin’s hour-long practice. “He was flying all over the place. He walked away last night. It’s nothing, zero concern. No treatment, nothing.”
“I was like oh okay, that’s good enough for a story!” El-Bashir said. So the reporter went to the hotel to write his article.
“There were some other colleagues of mine who were Vancouver based and actually been at the Ovechkin scrum,” El-Bashir said. “Some of them told me what he said, and I wrote it down. I think the Canadian reporters heard it and thought it was cute. ‘Haha, Russian machine never breaks.’ I hear it, and I’m like, ‘everything this guy has ever said to me is the biggest thing that happens. That is an awesome quote! This is going to go viral. This is going to go nuts.’”
El-Bashir was right.
“Like a lot of things that happened that year, it blew up. It went crazy,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, how crazy it was going to go. But it did. It really blew up. It spawned the name of your blog. And countless t-shirts and memes all over the internet.”
The Canadian journalists were more interested in Ovechkin’s glass-breaking bodycheck.
“It was one of the best hits of my career,” Ovechkin told to The Canadian Press. “When I was young my father told me, ‘If you want to play in the NHL you have to take hits and give hits.’ I love to score goals and I love to give some hits. It’s the game. You have to be ready for everything.”
He added, “I am a little bit crazy. I just try to be myself.”
Tarik El-Bashir is the Capitals beat reporter for The Athletic DC. To read his excellent reporting every day, subscribe to The Athletic where, through this link, you can get 66% off a subscription to The Athletic. The offer is good from today through December 8.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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