You all know Alex Ovechkin as one of the NHL’s premier goal-scoring forwards. An explosive stride, a cannon one-timer and powerhouse physicality makes the 6-foot-3 winger extremely difficult for opponents to handle. His 31 goals scored through 51 games only trails league leader Rick Nash of the New York Rangers.
Whenever he laces up his skates and takes the ice, Ovechkin demonstrates an “off the charts” passion for the game. Away from the ice, Alex is equally passionate about making a difference in the lives of some great kids facing difficult obstacles. Ovechkin spoke exclusively to XN Sports about his experiences with 10-year-old Ann Schaab of Laurel, M.D. and 8-year-old Lauren Santora of Norwalk, C.T.
Having met Ann at a previous youth hockey event, the outgoing 10-year-old surprised Ovechkin by asking him on a sushi date. Alex responded with a surprise of his own, treating Ann to a with a full day of excitement that included a ride in Ovi’s car to the Capitals’ Oct. 5 preseason game against the Carolina Hurricanes, watching warmups from the bench and a post-game sushi date.
“It’s always nice to be able to help when you can,” Ovechkin said. “I skated with Ann and her teammates earlier this year. As much fun as it was for them, it was a great time for me, too.”
Down Syndrome hasn’t gotten in the way of Ann’s enjoyment of the game of hockey. Alex came away impressed with her skills and personality. Ovechkin described her as “the life of the party.” After meeting Ovechkin again after the Capitals’ Jan. 28 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, she wasn’t afraid to criticize the Washington captain for starting a huge scrum with just over six minutes remaining the third period.
“Ann is a very fun kid to be around,” Ovechkin said. “She is very fun to play hockey with. She always has a smile on her face and is actually a very good hockey player as well. She seems to be the life of the party no matter where she is. I met her after the game recently and she was not happy with me for starting a scrum at the end of the game. She was not shy in letting me know!”
Ann’s mother, Melissa appreciated how engaged and personable Ovechkin was with her daughter.
“He came in to the locker room at Kettler and he caught Ann off-guard,” Melissa said. “We had not told her what was going to happen. He immediately whisked her into his car to drive to Verizon Center. I got to be in the car, which was really neat. He was so sweet with her. He helped her into the car, he offered her his phone so she could pick out music. They talked about music, food and what they watch on TV.
“It was amazing. It was like a dream. We were there for a little over eight hours. I think what we found so impressive was that Alex had a smile on his face and was really engaged with Ann. He jumped right in and was very personable with her and easygoing. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera stretched with her and joked with her. Brooks Laich said ‘we need to get you a no. 21 jersey.’ Mike Green wasn’t even dressed to play. He came and signed her jersey. Coach Trotz stopped and asked what she and Ovi were doing for dinner. Everyone we met that day went out of their way to engage with her.”
Ovechkin’s plea for a new Honda Accord at the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft in Columbus captured the attention of the hockey community. At first, no one was really sure of his intentions. Honda reached out to Ovechkin’s representatives to find out the reason why he was lobbying for a new car. It turned out Ovechkin wished to donate the car to Ann’s team, the Washington Ice Dogs. After Honda gave two sets of keys to the final two picks of the draft (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Filip Forsberg), they provided a third vehicle for Alex to donate to the team.
“It was a nice gesture by them,” Ovechkin said. “I was happy they stepped up.”
“It was a complete surprise to us,” Melissa said. “We knew nothing about it. Nobody realized what his endgame was. We were so excited. It was such a huge gesture. With the national platform, it got so many people talking about special hockey.”
This past September, Ovechkin took the Kettler Iceplex ice with about 60 children and adolescents from the American Special Hockey Association. The event helped the participants improve their skating and hockey skills.
“It was very satisfying,” Ovechkin said. “It just reminds you how great this sport is in that it brings so many kids together. They all seemed to have fun, which was great for me. It’s great to see those kids on the ice and having fun. That was the plan!”
Ovechkin is willing to step up and make himself available to brighten the lives of some of his bravest young fans. He was particularly touched after learning of 8-year-old Lauren Santora’s battle with type 1 diabetes.
“It’s always nice to be able to give back, especially for kids,” Ovechkin said. “Some of them have difficult times in their lives, so every chance I can do anything to help, I try to do it. Lauren was very sweet.”
Through the Kids Wish Network, Lauren was able to live out her dream of having breakfast with Alex, practicing with him and teammates, watching warmups from the bench and taking the ice with him for the national anthem ahead of Washington’s Dec. 13 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lauren’s mother, Dianna, thanked the Capitals organization for giving Lauren “the experience of a lifetime.”
“It was a total thrill for the whole family,” Dianna said. “Alex and the entire Capitals organization are amazing. They have the biggest hearts and really made Lauren feel important and part of the team. They ensured that Lauren had the experience of a lifetime – from having breakfast with Alex, the shopping spree in the team store, tour of KCI and skating with the team. There wasn’t anything that she didn’t get to see or experience.”
Dianna remembers 6-foot-4 right winger Tom Wilson being particularly personable with Lauren.
“Tom Wilson took a special liking to Lauren,” Dianna said. “She nicknamed him ‘Wreck-It Ralph.’ It was very cute. Braden Holtby gave my son some goalie tips and had a great time with Lauren, as she shot one-timers on him with Ovi.”
When Lauren returned home to Norwalk, teammates started treating her like a celebrity.
“It was the most amazing experience ever for her,” Dianna said. “She was a celebrity when she got back to her home rink. She even saw herself on SportsCenter when she was in the restaurant at the rink with her teammate. She is the only girl on her team and two of her teammates proclaimed that they are her body guards now as she is famous! She cherishes the memories made.”
It’s genuinely heartwarming to see a star of Ovechkin’s prestige making a personal connection with these young hockey fans and fulfilling their wishes. In Ann and Lauren, Alex has made a pair of All-Star friends who will be rooting even harder for him after their experiences with “The Great 8.”
A kind thank you to the Washington Capitals’ public relations staff for their assistance, with particular thanks to Megan Eichenberg. An additional thank you to Sarah DuPree of Kids Wish Network.
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