Last month, in
her customary aisle seat at the Verizon Center, Tatiana, elegant in a
green-and-gold print vest with fur collar and leather gloves that extended
almost to the elbow, watched a Capitals--Ottawa Senators match with a
do-not-disturb focus. Her husband, a former soccer player and taxi driver, and
older son sat a few rows back. (Alexander's parents have not sat together at
his games for many years. "Superstition," Tatiana said, through a
translator.) She muttered the occasional instruction, including "pass
across," in English, when Washington defenseman Mike Green had the puck at
the right point, but she never cheered, not even when her son beat goaltender
Ray Emery with what proved to be the winning goal in a 4--2 Washington victory.
She applauded twice during the game, once after Alexander Semin's film-at-11
goal and again when a package of goalie Brent Johnson's highlights was shown on
the scoreboard. Several times during the game, Ovechkin glanced in his mother's
direction as if there was some telepathic connection.
"She has so
much experience," said Alexander. "We are both professional athletes.
Mom is a strong athlete and a strong person."
Strong? How do
you calculate strength? During an interview the day before the game Tatiana
stood, raised her right trouser leg and exhibited with shy pride a massive scar
that begins above her ankle and rides up almost to mid-thigh. When she was
seven, walking home from school with friends, a car struck her. Doctors wanted
to amputate the mangled leg. There was one major surgery, then another, and
several minor operations. She was hospitalized for a year. When she finally
returned to school, doctors forbade her from even participating in gym class.
She devised her own rehabilitation program, putting bricks in a plastic bag,
hooking it around her foot and doing leg lifts. By the time she was 10, she was
blossoming on a youth basketball team.
Strong? How do
you measure the strength needed to survive the loss of a child, her firstborn?
Sergei Ovechkin died in 1995, when he was in his early 20s, from complications
following an automobile accident in Moscow. "We were all together, grieved
all together, together we didn't crumble and together, only together, we
survived it," Tatiana said. Tears appeared to well in her eyes. The
interpreter turned and added, "She asks you to move on to other
questions." Asked if their son's death triggered a hyperprotective response
in a woman he has known 38 years, the senior Mikhail spread his arms wide and
said, "Of course. Like a hen with her chickens, trying to protect,
spreading her wings, keeping them together."
later the family seems close, happy. Certainly it is wealthy beyond
expectation. When Alexander stood up and announced they had a deal, Leonsis
walked over and hugged Tatiana, telling her, "You were very tough and very
fair." Reflecting on that day, Leonsis says, "I missed my [late]
mother, seeing not only how she loves her son but also how she launched him.
She wants to give him all her advice and love, but he's a grown-up now. It was
very sweet to watch."
The launch has
been spectacular for Alexander, although, according to someone with knowledge
of the family, Tatiana finds it difficult to see her son making more of his own
decisions. When asked if Alexander's success is a continuation of her own
decorated career, Tatiana says, "Of course."
argue with my mom," says Alexander, "but she gives me great advice. The
best advice was not about the contract but about life: Just be
And Mother Russia
Hot Shots from
SINCE HE burst
into the NHL in 2005, Alexander Ovechkin has scored more goals than any other
player: 146 through Sunday. That total also is more than any other active
player scored in his first 223 games. Here are the active players with the most
goals in 223 games and how they have fared since.