WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will get a chance to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday.
The Russian-born captain and playoff MVP and his teammates are continuing the NHL tradition of visiting the sitting president after some recent champions in other leagues have chosen not to.
A person with direct knowledge of the decision confirmed the Capitals’ White House visit to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team hadn’t announced it. The Capitals are Washington’s first champions in the four major North American sports leagues since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992, also the last hometown pro team to visit the White House. The Capitals’ visit was first reported by The Washington Post.
This visit has political undertones given that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Ovechkin has been a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and fellow countrymen Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov are also on the team.
After posting on Instagram about Putin in November 2017, Ovechkin said it was not political while adding that he had a good relationship with Putin.
“I just support my president and just support my country because I’m from there, and you know, if people from U.S. came to Russia, they care about what happen in the U.S.,” Ovechkin said. “So, I care about what happening in Russia because it’s my home and it’s where I’m from.”
Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is currently in the minors, told Postmedia in Canada during the final that he wouldn’t go to the White House. Forward Brett Connolly declined comment on the matter before the team left town last summer.
But the Capitals are nevertheless doing what the 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins did and visiting Trump. Back-to-back Cup-winning coach Mike Sullivan said at the White House in October 2017 that the team’s visit was not political and the Penguins were “simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players over this season or the last two seasons.”
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors decided not to go to the White House after either of their past two championships. Several players met with former President Barack Obama before facing the Washington Wizards in February.
The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles had a visit planned, but only two players planned to go to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, and Trump rescinded their invitation on the eve of the gathering. After the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, defensive back Devin McCourty said he wouldn’t go if the team visited Trump, which it did in 2017 — absent quarterback Tom Brady and others.
Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox are scheduled to celebrate their World Series championship at the White House on May 9.
“I would like to go there,” center Nicklas Backstrom said in June. “I think the building is pretty cool and everything. I’m not going to get into this discussion that a lot of the other athletes have been talking about. I think the building is pretty cool, and I think it’s an honor if the president invites you.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby said at the time the Capitals would make a team decision about the White House and “weigh the positives and negatives of everything.”
“In any situation like that, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s right for what you believe in and that should take thought — and weigh a group decision,” Holtby said.