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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In the Role of a Scorned Star, Alex Ovechkin Skates Into Canada’s Ukrainian Enclave

The hockey player Alex Ovechkin, who has been in the forefront of the Russian public’s outpouring of rage over the conflict in Ukraine, played in front of the most indignant audience of the season thus far.

As a high-profile supporter of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals teammates took on the Edmonton Oilers in a Wednesday night game in Edmonton, Alberta, which is home to one of Canada’s greatest concentrations of the Ukrainian diaspora.

Edmonton resident Andriy Tovstiuk collaborates with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in the organisation of fund-raising events, rallies, protests, and humanitarian aid activities in the province of Alberta for the benefit of Ukraine. He was in attendance for the game on Wednesday at Rogers Place.

For Tovstiuk, whose group is collaborating with both the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames to raise money for Ukraine via its 50-50 drawings, which have routinely raised more than $1 million, “I believe we’re going to be noisy and heated up.” however we all want to concentrate on supporting Ukraine and getting behind all that is happening on right now,” said the group.

Ovechkin is one of Russia’s most well-known sportsmen, and his connection with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has a special affinity for ice hockey, is well-known. Despite Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the relationship remained strong, with Ovechkin launching an online social campaign in 2017 to promote Putin’s election victory in the Russian presidential election in 2018.

According to the 2016 Canadian census, there are 160,000 persons of Ukrainian origin in Edmonton and 370,000 people of Ukrainian descent across the province of Alberta. There are around 1.4 million individuals of Ukrainian descent residing in Canada, which is a higher number than anyplace else in the world save Ukraine and Russia.

Officials from the Washington Capitals, who have four Russian players on their roster, including Alex Ovechkin, had met with their Edmonton Oilers counterparts to discuss security precautions at Rogers Place. An inquiry to the Edmonton Oilers for comment was not returned. It was decided that the Capitals would not talk on the record.

“The Edmonton Oilers stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” said Tim Shipton, executive vice president of Oilers Entertainment Group, in a statement released on Monday. Fans of the Edmonton Oilers were very courteous in their support for Ukraine, as seen throughout Saturday’s home game.”

Viter, a Ukrainian folk choir, played the national song of Canada in both English and Ukrainian on Wednesday evening. The Edmonton Oilers’ players have continued to wear Ukrainian flag stickers on their helmets this season. Fans in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag filled the stands and draped flags all around the stadium, demonstrating their national pride. Every time Ovechkin touched the puck, he was greeted by a chorus of boos. Edmonton triumphed 4-3 in overtime on a goal from star centre Connor McDavid, despite the fact that he didn’t play in the game.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Ovechkin, one of the NHL’s most popular players — his two goals in a 5-4 victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday tied him with Jaromir Jagr for third on the all-time goals list with 766 — has been jeered and booed by fans on the road, particularly in the United States. When he participated in a memorial video for former Blue Jackets great Rick Nash on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, his image was insulted even more.

The International Ice Hockey Federation has forbidden Russian and Belarusian players and teams from participating in any international events for the time being. They are also facing demands for punishment from fans, various nations, and even former NHLer Wayne Gretzky, who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

While still one of the most important individuals in hockey, Gretzky, now 61, advocated for Russia to be prohibited from the rescheduled 2022 men’s world junior championship only days before the International Ice Hockey Federation prevented the country from participating. He then stated to Sportsnet 590, a Toronto-based radio station, that he was thinking about the enormous number of people of Ukrainian heritage who reside in Canada, particularly in Edmonton, where the tournament would be held in August.

Slava Malamud, a teacher in Baltimore who formerly worked as a writer in Russia for many years, has a large following on social media as a vocal opponent of Ovechkin’s career. Even though Malamud said that he would not object to Ovechkin being excluded from the National Hockey League because of his support for Putin, he stated that penalising all Russian players would not be fair.

Dan O'Brien
Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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