Hockey star Alex Ovechkin, a center among Russian professional athletes in public outrage over the war in Ukraine, played in front of the most unsympathetic audience to date.
Ovechkin, a high-ranking supporter of President Vladimir Putin, and his Washington Capitals team-mates clashed with the Oilers on Wednesday night in Edmonton, Alberta, home to one of the largest concentrations of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.
Andriy Tovstyuk of Edmonton is working with the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, organizing fundraising, rallies, demonstrations and humanitarian aid efforts in Alberta, Ukraine. He was at the match on Wednesday at Rodgers Place.
“I think we’re going to be noisy, we’re going to get hot,” said Tovstyuk, whose organization works with both Oilers and Calgary Flames to raise money for Ukraine through its 50-50 draws, which often hit more than $ 1 million. . “But we all really want to focus on supporting Ukraine and really stand behind everything that is happening right now.
“This is an emotional time for everyone and we really encourage everyone to use this as a meeting point for Ukraine.
Ovechkin is one of Russia’s most famous athletes, and his friendship with Putin, who has a strong passion for ice hockey, is widely known. The friendship was unshakable after Putin invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, with Ovechkin launching an online social movement in 2017 to support Putin’s victory in Russia’s 2018 election.
Edmonton is home to 160,000 people of Ukrainian descent, and Alberta has 370,000, according to the 2016 Census of Canada. Canada has approximately 1.4 million people of Ukrainian descent, more than anywhere else outside Ukraine and Russia.
Capitals officials, who have four Russian players on their roster, including Ovechkin, discussed Rodgers Place’s security measures with their Oilers counterparts. Oilers did not respond to requests for comment. The Capitals declined to comment on the minutes.
Tim Shipton, executive vice president of Oilers Entertainment Group, issued a statement Monday: “The Edmonton Oilers stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. As we saw during the home game on Saturday, Oilers fans showed great respect by showing their support for Ukraine.
On Wednesday night, the Ukrainian folk choir Viter sang the Canadian anthem in English and Ukrainian. Oilers players continued to wear Ukrainian flag stickers on their helmets. Fans dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag littered the stands and hoisted flags throughout the arena. Every time Ovechkin touched the puck, he was booed. He did not score and Edmonton won 4-3 after overtime with a goal by star center Connor McDavid.
On Tuesday, before their first game of the season in Alberta, the Capitals issued a statement saying they were “joining the National Hockey League in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the loss of an innocent life.” The statement continued: “We insist and hope for a peaceful solution as soon as possible. The capitals also fully support our Russian players and their families abroad. We realize that they are in a difficult situation and we are ready to offer our help to them and their families. “
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Ovechkin, one of the NHL’s biggest stars – two goals in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over the Flames has tied him third for 766 career goals with Jaromir Jagr. he was mocked and booed during games on the road. His image was even despised in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday when he appeared in a video in honor of former Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.
Ovechkin held a press conference on February 25 to distance himself from Putin and support the Russian invasion. “I am not in politics. For example, I am an athlete, “he said. He added, without mentioning Putin, “Please, no more war.”
Instead of reassuring his detractors, Ovechkin came under fire from supporters of the war in his homeland and opponents in the rest of the world. This led to a serious reaction in Ovechkin’s social media accounts by Russian supporters, and he was advised not to change his Instagram photo because it would not go well in Russia.
That’s why Ovechkin’s profile picture of him with Putin in his verified Instagram account, which has 1.6 million followers, remained on Wednesday afternoon. There were plans after the press conference to turn the photo into a symbol of world peace, but since Ovechkin’s wife, two children and parents are currently in Russia, it was decided that the photo of him and Putin remain.
So far, Ovechkin and Flams defender Nikita Zadorov are the only Russian players to publicly mention the war. Zadorov posted emoji on the Ukrainian flag and the words “No War” and “STOP !!!” on Instagram the day after the invasion.
According to players’ agent Dan Milstein, who represents dozens of Russian and Belarusian players with NHL contracts, his clients and their families face abuse and swearing on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
“I had wives of my players who received a lot of alarming messages,” Milstein said. “The comments below the children’s photos are a Nazi baby, go back to Russia, we don’t need you here, go home, among other things.”
Milstein, a native of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, was the only NHL-affiliated person to agree to speak in the minutes of the article, while others cited fears of repercussions for associates or clients who have family members. Russia.
An NHL spokesman did not respond to requests for comment from Commissioner Gary Batman. But the league is working with police in some of its 32 team cities to provide additional patrols around the players’ arenas and homes.
Milstein said his Russian clients on the NHL list did not want to have anything to do with the war in Ukraine, but feared the consequences of the statement.
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“Of course, they are worried not only about their families, but they are also extremely worried about what is happening in Russia,” he said. “My clients do not want war, my clients want world peace. My clients are concerned about all the people in Ukraine and Russia, all of them. ”
Hockey equipment maker CCM said last week it would stop using Ovechkin and other Russian players in global marketing campaigns.
Russian and Belarusian players and teams are banned from all international competitions by the International Ice Hockey Federation. They also face calls for sanctions from fans, some governments and even the Wayne Gretsky Hockey Hall of Fame.
The 61-year-old Gretsky, who is still one of the most influential people in hockey, called for Russia to be removed from the rescheduled World Youth Tournament for men in 2022 shortly before the IIHF banned the country. He later explained on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto that he was thinking about the large number of people of Ukrainian descent living in Canada, especially in Edmonton, where the tournament will be played in August.
“I just couldn’t figure out how to meet a country at war, a city with tons of Ukrainian family members still living in Ukraine,” said Gretsky, who won four Stanley Cup championships with Edmonton. “And I got some repulsion from people who said, ‘Why punish Russian children?’
“It’s not about punishing Russian children. What about Ukrainian children who are killed every day? Ukrainian children aged 12 or 14 go to war. I do not want anyone to be punished. I just think there is common sense that we should not be competing against this country at a time when they are fighting an innocent state. “
Last week, the NHL condemned the Russian invasion in an official statement and said it was immediately ending business ties with Russia. This week, the league cut ties with the Continental Hockey League, which is largely based in Russia. The NHL teams were told to stop communicating with KHL teams and agents based in Russia.
The NHL statement also clarified the league’s position on Russian players, saying that they “play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL clubs, not on behalf of Russia.”
Milstein and other players’ agents said banning Russian players in the NHL made no sense and would play into the hands of Putin, who continues the Russian government’s tradition of using elite athletes as propaganda.
Players’ agents also criticized the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella group that oversees the three major youth leagues. The KHL recently announced that it has canceled this year’s Russia-Canada series. He is also considering banning Russian and Belarusian prospects from his import project, which distributes teenagers from outside North America to KHL teams. Doing so, Milstein said, will essentially help Russia, which is reluctant to play athletes elsewhere.
While some critics of Ovechkin, such as Hall of Fame goalkeeper Dominique Hasek, would like him banned for his support of Putin, others say removing him and other Russians will not help the situation.
Slava Malamud, a Baltimore teacher who has been a journalist in Russia for many years, has strong followers on social media as a staunch critic of Ovechkin. While Malamud said he would have no problem expelling Ovechkin from the NHL for his support of Putin, he did not think it would be fair to punish all Russian players.
“We are not punishing the Russians for being Russians,” he said. “You can’t help where you were born. But the players who have explicitly supported Putin, especially Ovechkin, have that on their conscience. He is tainted by this. He did it very willingly. “