Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom returned to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday determined to forget their bitter Olympic experiences and help their National Hockey League club secure a spot in the playoffs.
Ovechkin scored just one goal in five games for Russia and never reached the podium in Sochi, while Backstrom was denied a chance to play in Sweden’s gold-medal game after he failed a drug test.
“I feel sorry for my countrypeople,” Ovechkin told reporters after practice at the Capitals’ training facility in suburban Washington. “Everybody was excited, couldn’t wait for the game to start. The fans were supporting us and we lost.”
“First of all, I want to say sorry to the fans. It’s a once-in-a-life opportunity to represent your country in the Olympics, and we didn’t get any medal,” he said. “The fans, the media and all the people that supported Russia was upset, but life goes on. Right now, we’re here and we’ll do our best to take a playoff spot and win the [Stanley] Cup.”
Backstrom was forced to sit out Sweden’s 0-3 loss to Canada in the title game after testing positive for a higher-than-permitted level of an International Olympic Committee (IOC)-banned substance found in an allergy medication.
The 26-year-old center said he has been taking the medication, which is not banned by the NHL, since joining the Capitals in 2007.
“It’s been a couple tough days,” Backstrom said softly. “When you miss an Olympic final, it’s something you don’t want to do. Maybe you don’t have that chance the rest of your career. It’s very sad at this point.”
“I’ve had allergies for seven years. Everyone who lives in the Washington area knows how bad it is here. I’ve been playing internationally, the world championship, the Olympics [in 2010]. I haven’t done anything differently,” he said.
Backstrom said the IOC had not yet decided if he can receive the silver medal that Sweden earned. When asked who he would blame for the medicinal mishap, he said: “I followed the doctor’s recommendation.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he feels “very sorry” for Backstrom and that testing for drugs is an imperfect science. The NHL levies no sanction for the level of medicine Backstrom ingested.
“It’s maybe biggest game of his career and he wasn’t able to play,” said Oates, an NHL Hall of Famer.
“From our angle, it’s a glitch in the system,” he said. “He was given medicine that he’s allowed to take [in the NHL]. From my perspective that sounds wrong. You have a figure skater who’s 90 pounds [40kg] and you have a bobsled guy who’s 280 [127kg] and everybody’s body processes medicine differently.”
“So you have a player who took a drug that he’s allowed. He talked to the team doctor, who has accepted responsibility. I feel bad that it’s gotten to this position for everybody,” he said.
Washington is currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, but Oates said he was confident Ovechkin and Backstrom would be able to put the Olympics behind them.
“They’re going to move forward fine,” he said. “They’re both professionals. What happened is very difficult, no question. Ovi’s country was the host country with huge expectations and the team didn’t play very well.”
“And Backie’s situation is borderline unfair. But it’s our job to get them through it and refocus on the Capitals for the rest of the year,” he added.