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Alex Ovechkin Skates Into Canada’s Ukrainian Enclave as a Scorned Star


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The hockey star Alex Ovechkin, center amongst Russian skilled athletes in the general public’s anger over the war in Ukraine, played before essentially the most unsympathetic crowd yet.

Ovechkin, President Vladimir V. Putin’s high-profile supporter, and his Washington Capitals teammates faced the Oilers on Wednesday night in Edmonton, Alberta, home to considered one of Canada’s largest concentrations of the Ukrainian diaspora.

Andriy Tovstiuk of Edmonton works with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress organizing fund-raising, rallies, demonstrations and humanitarian relief efforts in Alberta for Ukraine. He was at Wednesday’s game at Rogers Place.

“I feel we’re going to be loud, we’re going to be fired up,” said Tovstiuk, whose organization is working with each the Oilers and the Calgary Flames to lift money for Ukraine through its 50-50 draws, which incessantly hit greater than $1 million. “But we’re all really wanting to give attention to supporting Ukraine and really getting behind the whole lot that’s occurring immediately.

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“It’s an emotional time for everyone, and we actually encourage everybody to make use of this as a rallying point for Ukraine.”

Ovechkin is considered one of Russia’s most famous athletes, and his friendship with Putin, who has a singular passion for ice hockey, is widely known. The friendship was unwavering after Putin invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, with Ovechkin starting a web-based social movement in 2017 to support Putin winning the 2018 Russian election.

Edmonton is home to 160,000 people of Ukrainian descent, and there are 370,000 in Alberta, based on the 2016 Canadian census. There are roughly 1.4 million people of Ukrainian background living in Canada, greater than anywhere outside Ukraine and Russia.

Officials from the Capitals, who’ve 4 Russian players on their roster including Ovechkin, had discussed security measures at Rogers Place with their Oilers counterparts. The Oilers didn’t reply to requests for comment. The Capitals declined to talk on the record.

Tim Shipton, an executive vp of Oilers Entertainment Group, issued an announcement on Monday: “The Edmonton Oilers stand in solidarity alongside the people of Ukraine. As we saw during Saturday’s home game, Oilers fans were very respectful in showing their support for Ukraine.”

On Wednesday night, Viter, a Ukrainian folk choir, performed the Canadian anthem in English and Ukrainian. Oilers players continued to sport Ukrainian flag stickers on their helmets. Fans wearing the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag dotted the stands and hung flags throughout the sector. Each time Ovechkin touched the puck, he was loudly booed. He didn’t rating, and Edmonton won, 4-3, in additional time on a goal from the star center Connor McDavid.

On Tuesday, ahead of their first game of the season in Alberta, the Capitals issued an announcement saying they “join the National Hockey League in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lack of innocent life.” The statement continued: “We urge and hope for a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. The Capitals also stand in full support of our Russian players and their families overseas. We realize they’re being put in a difficult situation and stand by to supply our assistance to them and their families.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ovechkin, who’s considered one of the N.H.L.’s biggest stars — two goals in a 5-4 victory on Tuesday against the Flames tied him for third on the profession goals list with Jaromir Jagr at 766 — has been jeered and booed during road games. His image was even scorned in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday when he appeared in a tribute video for the previous Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.

Ovechkin held a news conference on Feb. 25 intended to distance himself from Putin and support for the Russian invasion. “I’m not in politics. Like, I’m an athlete,” he said. He added, without mentioning Putin, “Please, no more war.”

As a substitute of calming his detractors, Ovechkin found himself under criticism from supporters of the war in his home country and opponents of it in the remainder of the world. This resulted in a severe backlash on Ovechkin’s social media accounts from Russian supporters, and he was advised not to alter his Instagram profile picture because it will not go over well in Russia.


May 8, 2022, 1:11 a.m. ET

That’s the reason Ovechkin’s profile picture, showing him with Putin, on his verified Instagram account, which has 1.6 million followers, remained as of Wednesday afternoon. There was a plan to alter the image to an emblem for world peace after the news conference, but since Ovechkin’s wife, two children and oldsters are currently in Russia, it was decided the photo of him and Putin would stay.

To date, Ovechkin and Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov are the one Russian players to publicly mention the war. Zadorov posted a Ukrainian flag emoji and the words “No war” and “STOP IT!!!” on Instagram the day after the invasion.

In line with the player agent Dan Milstein, who represents dozens of Russian and Belarusian players with N.H.L. contracts, his clients and their families are facing a barrage of abuse and profanity on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

“I even have had wives of my players receiving very disturbing messages,” Milstein said. “The comments under children’s pictures are Nazi baby, get back to Russia, we don’t need you here, go home, amongst other things.”

Milstein, who’s a native of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was the one person connected with the N.H.L. who would conform to speak on the record for this text, with others citing fear of repercussions for associates or clients who’ve relations in Russia.

An N.H.L. spokesman didn’t reply to requests for comment from Commissioner Gary Bettman. However the league is working with police services in a few of its 32 team cities to supply extra patrols across the arenas and houses of players.

Milstein said his Russian clients on N.H.L. rosters want nothing to do with the war in Ukraine but fear the results of speaking out.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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Victory Day concerns. President Volodymyr Zelensky called on residents to heed local curfews within the face of an increasing threat of Russian attacks. Officials within the country fear that President Vladimir V. Putin might use Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9 to ratchet up fighting and switch what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine into explicit, all-out war.

In Mariupol. Russian and Ukrainian officials said that every one the ladies, children and older individuals who were trapped for weeks within the besieged Azovstal steel plant within the ruined city have been evacuated, after days of start-and-stop efforts to get the last civilians out.

A U.N. statement. In its first unanimous motion on the Ukraine war, the United Nations Security Council adopted an announcement expressing “deep concern” concerning the conflict and “strong support” for diplomatic efforts by the U.N. secretary general to seek out a peaceful solution. The adopted text appeared to have averted Russia’s veto by referring to the conflict as “disputes” relatively than “war.”

“After all, they’re frightened not only about their families but in addition they’re extremely frightened about what is going on in Russia,” he said. “My clients don’t want the war, my clients want world peace. My clients are concerned for all of the people in Ukraine and Russia, everybody.”

The hockey equipment maker CCM said last week it will stop using Ovechkin and other Russian players in global marketing campaigns.

Russian and Belarusian players and teams have been barred from all international competitions by the International Ice Hockey Federation. Additionally they face calls for sanctions from fans, some governments and even the Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky, 61, and still one of the influential people in hockey, called for Russia to be barred from the rescheduled 2022 men’s world junior tournament shortly before the I.I.H.F. barred the country. He later explained on the Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 that he was considering of the big numbers of individuals of Ukrainian descent who live in Canada, especially Edmonton, where the tournament will likely be played in August.

“I just couldn’t relate to how we were going to welcome a rustic that’s at war, to a city that has tons of Ukrainian relations which are still living in Ukraine,” said Gretzky, who won 4 Stanley Cup championships with Edmonton. “And I got some pushback from people who said, ‘Why punish the Russian kids?’

“It’s not about punishing the Russian kids. What concerning the Ukrainian kids which are being killed each day? The Ukrainian kids which are 12 or 14 years old, going to war. I don’t want anybody to be punished. I just think it makes common sense that we shouldn’t compete against this country immediately, while they’re at war against an innocent country.”

Last week, the N.H.L. condemned the Russian invasion in an official statement and said it was immediately suspending business relationships in Russia. The league suspended ties with the Kontinental Hockey League, which is essentially based in Russia, this week. N.H.L. teams were told to stop communications with K.H.L. teams and agents based in Russia.

The N.H.L. statement also made clear the league’s position on Russian players, saying they “play within the N.H.L. on behalf of their N.H.L. clubs, and never on behalf of Russia.”

Milstein and other player agents said barring Russian N.H.L. players made no sense and would play into the hands of Putin, who continues the Russian government tradition of using elite athletes as propaganda.

The player agents also criticized the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella group that oversees the three major junior leagues. The C.H.L. recently announced it canceled this yr’s Russia-Canada series. It’s also considering a ban on Russian and Belarusian prospects from its import draft, which distributes teenage players from countries outside North America to C.H.L. teams. Doing so, Milstein said, would essentially help Russia, which has reluctance over athletes playing elsewhere.

While some observers critical of Ovechkin, just like the Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek, would love him barred for his support of Putin, others think suspending him and other Russians wouldn’t help the situation.

Slava Malamud, a teacher in Baltimore who was a journalist for a few years in Russia, has a robust following on social media as a staunch critic of Ovechkin. While Malamud said he wouldn’t have an issue with Ovechkin’s being barred from the N.H.L. due to his support for Putin, he didn’t think punishing all Russian players could be fair.

“We’re not punishing Russians for being Russian,” he said. “You’ll be able to’t help where you might be born. But players who’ve explicitly supported Putin, at the start Ovechkin, have this on their conscience. He’s stained by this. He did it very willingly.”

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