On June 26, 2004, Alex Ovechkin was selected first overall by the Washington Capitals. Thus, the Ovechkin era began in Washington. Since then the Capitals have hit their low points, but have also reached the highest highs as an organization by winning the Stanley Cup.
Through all the head coaching changes, playoff struggles and eventual triumph, much has been written and many conclusions have been drawn about Ovechkin and the Capitals as a whole. But almost no one has had a closer view of the Ovechkin era than assistant coach Blaine Forsythe and now he’s setting the record straight.
Forsythe entered the Capitals’ organization in 2006 as a video coach and is now in his 13th season with the team. After several years of working together, Ovechkin and Forsythe developed a relationship that still remains strong to this day.
“It's great relationship,” Ovechkin said. “Even when he was video coach we always have a good relationship. … His personality didn't change. He seems like a grumpy guy, but he's a very funny guy.”
“We've had a very good relationship on and off the ice,” Forsythe told NBC Sports Washington. “We talk quite a bit. It's not always about hockey.”
That relationship began during a time in which many on the outside were quick to label Ovechkin a “coach killer.” The rumor started to spread after the Capitals had four different coaches in Ovechkin’s first nine seasons in the NHL. It is an easy label to place on a high-profile player whose team undergoes a transition behind the bench and one becomes very hard for a player to shake.
In Ovechkin’s case, it also was just plain wrong.
“It's a myth,” Forsythe said. “He's a unique player, he's a different player. Some coaches maybe didn't handle him properly and other coaches have. I think the biggest thing about Alex is he wants to win, he wants to support his teammates. He feels a lot of pressure from the outside, not only from his country but from his fans and even the ownership to make them proud and he shoulders a lot of that load.”
As time progressed and the Caps continued to come up short in the playoffs, more and more attention began to be paid to whether the problem was not on the bench, but on the ice. The question of whether or not Ovechkin could lead Washington to a championship were raised with even some people going as far as to say Washington would be better off trading away the face of the franchise.
It was another narrative being written from the outside that, to someone like Forsythe who was on the inside, made no sense at all.
Forsythe did what he could to shut out the noise, but it became hard to avoid it, especially after the 2017 playoffs when the Caps fell to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
“You know what's out there,” Forsythe said. “You try to avoid it and not listen to the negative part of it and keep things as positive with the group as you can, but at the same time, it does creep in.”
The negativity was impossible to avoid and the team was asking itself the very same questions as the media and the fans on what they needed to do to finally get over the hump.
While everyone on the outside questioned whether Ovechkin was capable of getting the team to a championship, Forsythe took a different approach. He looked inward, asking himself what more he could have done.
“You know you're hopefully, or you think you're good enough to win and get through that and when it doesn't happen it's just, ok what could I personally have done differently? What could we have done differently? And you question every possible thing you can possibly question, not unlike anybody else whether it's media or fans or whatnot and justifiably so.”
But all those questions were answered, the doubts silenced when Oveckhin finally reached the pinnacle of his hockey career and hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Now looking back, after 12 years in the organization together, Forsythe is amazed at the man Ovechkin has become.
“To see him grow not only on the ice, having a baby and married, you picture the two different people that you've went with and hung out with the last 12 or 13 years both individually and professionally and that's when you realize how proud of him you really are. Just to sit back, not only as his coach, but as what I consider a friend 10 years down the road too.”
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