Alexander Ovechkin stands as one of the NHL’s most accomplished players and even more so leaders. As a great team player, Ovechkin leads his teammates by example. He’s without a doubt incredibly skilled in the rink but that skill transcends just his physical abilities. His team feeds off his energy and his passion captivates fans worldwide. Ovechkin continues not only as a hard-working, positive leader but one who shares his successes with his community, always remembering his roots and always bringing a level of authenticity to the game. In these ways, Ovechkin himself defines leadership through his actions. It’s not just about the game. It’s also about the spirit of the game.
Since 2004, No. 1 NHL draft pick Alexander Ovechkin has become one of the league’s most explosive goal scorers. Captain of the Washington Capitals and son of famous Soviet era-athletes, Ovechkin has won the NHL’s Hart Trophy (3x, MVP), Rocket Richard Trophy (7x, leading goal scorer), Calder Trophy (1x, best rookie), Art Ross (1x, most points), President’s Trophy (team with most points, 3x), Stanley Cup (1x), Conn Smythe Trophy (1x, MVP of playoffs), and Kharlamov Trophy (given by Russia to the best Russian player, 8x). To me, the Ted Lindsay Trophy that Ovechkin has won three times for most outstanding player in the NHL stands out the most. The players award this trophy, and as such it signifies the love and admiration that Ovechkin’s peers feel for him. And, of course, I cannot forget that fans voted Ovi to be all star captain of Metropolitan Division.
Watching Ovechkin hold the Stanley Cup last year (and watching as my mom actually started to cry out of joy), I realized that Ovechkin’s greatness comes from his relentlessness to give up. Fourteen years in the NHL and he finally won the Stanley Cup in the 2018 playoff finals game. This game marked not only his first Cup victory, but his first time playing in the Finals. Even in the years prior to this victory, Ovechkin’s ability to inspire fans came not only from his impressive shooting and on-ice strategy, but the way his teammates always praised him for his leadership even when the media tried to spin him off to be an incompetent leader (since he hadn’t brought the team past second round playoffs until that point).
As a teammate, there remains a certain challenge in constantly facing failure under the leadership of someone as experienced as Ovechkin. Similarly, Ovechkin throughout the years has had to struggle with judgment by the media and even fans. Can he truly become one of the greatest NHL leaders and players if he has not been able to lead his team to a Stanley Cup victory? To keep pushing even through the doubt and the losses is a struggle that many people, including myself, can identify with. Constant criticism, especially by those who do not offer criticism constructively (i.e. the media), makes the situation even more difficult. Yet, Ovechkin’s team has seemed to always have faith in him as their captain and, for Ovechkin, building that continuously motivated team should testify to his true leadership. Taking this into account and watching Ovechkin play over the years has clarified that leading means more than winning. It’s about keeping the spirit of the team alive and providing that team with future-facing goals even, and especially, in face of defeat.
Ovechkin’s ability to lead his team by example, on top of his mental and physical prowess in the rink, defines his exceptional leadership. Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie said of Ovechkin, “I think when you see O go out there and he’s hitting guys and shooting pucks and playing hard, I think that’s when he leads by example.” How teammates perceive you and your energy in the game remains a vital testament to true leadership. Ovechkin’s constant energy in the rink year after year effectively demonstrates his commitment to the game and to his teammates in such a way that his teammates understand and visualize his ability and motivation.
Moreover, Ovechkin encourages a faithful mental energy for the team. Teammate Lars Eller notes, “[Ovechkin] always has a positive mindset, comes with a smile to practice, to every game.” A leader’s positive attitude determines his actions and fuels both himself and the team. Especially in lieu of failure, positivity plays a key role in encouraging the team to keep working until they succeed. Last year’s NHL finals proved how these play a role in true success. After the initial loss to Vegas, the Capitals remained calm and fought harder to victory. When Ovechkin finally held up the Stanley Cup, his teammates faces were indescribably proud, not just for their win as a team but for Ovechkin himself earning the cup and leading his team to that very moment.
Ovechkin in the rink versus Ovechkin off the rink. So many NHL viewers think of Ovechkin as an amazing goal-scorer and shooter. But he embodies more than that. Following him on Instagram, I noticed how Ovechkin cradled the Stanley Cup (even slept with it) after the Finals last year. I could feel his excitement for this moment, after 14 years of hard work, even through small snippets that he shared of his life. What really stuck out to me, however, was how he shared that Cup with his community and how he encouraged every inspired fan around him to touch the cup. Although he lives in the U.S. and plays for a U.S. team, I appreciate that he never forgets his origin. Taking the Cup to Moscow, and witnessing through videos how much fans loved him even there, proved to me the authenticity of Ovechkin as a leader. His love for his community fuels his fans halfway across the world in a way that not many other athletes can do. His inspirational genuinity that makes him stand out as a leader transcends all barriers.
While I am one of thousands of fans that wholeheartedly admire Ovechkin, there are moments when he does lose his temper in games. For example, last year after a loss to the Penguins, Ovechkin broke his stick out of frustration and tossed the remainder of it onto the floor. I would not consider this the most mature behavior, but part of the beauty of Ovechkin to me is how he so forwardly presents his emotions. While a positive attitude is always important, there are times in every sport (and even out of sports) when frustration takes over. And that’s human. And to show that bit of humanity is okay. There are obviously those who disagree and will argue about proper etiquette. I understand that, but I personally feel more connected to leaders who are not afraid to show every part of themselves and their emotions in a game. That said, I would not emulate this outward emotion in the workplace. Not because I lack emotions that strong, but because in my line of work as a software engineer I don’t think aggressive behavior would work as well as talking out my feelings (and I’d get fired?).
Others have said over the years that Ovechkin cannot make a great leader because he does not place the team’s goals over his own. Towards the beginning of his career, I could see how this could be inferred. At the start of his role as team captain, it didn’t seem as though his new responsibilities added the dimensionality to his game that the team had hoped. He even went to the media stating that jealousy had caused some team conflicts. I don’t believe that speaking to the media about these types of claims would ever help unite the team as opposed to talking out issues. But that was seven years ago, and through his more recent plays and how his teammates speak of him with regard, Ovechkin clearly has evolved into a better overall leader. For instance, he seems to understand the strengths of his teammates better and utilizing those strengths for the benefit of the team. In a game against the Philadelphia Flyers this past week, Ovechkin had the opportunity to shoot but instead unexpectedly passed the puck to Wilson who scored the goal. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of every player serves a crucial role in building a more successful team, and Ovechkin has shown this learning throughout the past seasons.
Without a doubt, I look up to Ovechkin as a leader. His dedication and commitment to himself and his goals alongside those of the team, and his respect for every person who makes those goals possible (including the referees and fans), illustrates how he has become one of the greatest players and leaders in the NHL. Without the support of his team and without truly taking responsibility for relationships between himself and his teammates and between his team and the overall fanbase and community, he would not be the Ovechkin that his team follows. And he would not be the Ovechkin that over 2.69 million people on Twitter and 1.4 million on Instagram follow. While no leader is perfect, Ovechkin demonstrates the importance in learning through struggles and overcoming each challenge as a team.
“Alex Ovechkin Stats and News.” NHL.com, http://www.nhl.com/player/alex-ovechkin-8471214.
BarDown Staff. “Capitals Players Defend Ovechkin’s Ability to Lead Team – Article.” BARDOWN, 19 May 2017, http://www.bardown.com/capitals-players-defend-ovechkin-s-ability-to-lead-team-1.756648.
Biggart, Jeb. “VIDEO: Alex Ovechkin Breaks Stick in Tantrum After Another Home Loss.” 12up.Com, 12up, 18 May 2018, http://www.12up.com/posts/6064176-video-alex-ovechkin-breaks-stick-in-tantrum-after-another-home-loss.
Carrera, Katie. “Alex Ovechkin: ‘Sometimes You Don’t Have to Be Jealous’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 May 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/post/alex-ovechkin-sometimes-you-dont-have-to-be-jealous/2012/05/14/gIQAUSXyPU_blog.html?utm_term=.c8f9a3505963.