Russia, Ukraine And The Alexander Ovechkin Effect

I have to admit, foreign affairs are not exactly in my wheelhouse. As a fat, happy American, I am mostly blissfully unaware of the turmoil outside of the United States, save the large events that turn into media circuses. Basically, I'm your typical, obnoxious, ignorant American.

I'm not particularly proud of this, but it's true. This complete ignorance of world affairs had me slightly confused and amused last night at the Wells Fargo Center, where I took in the Philadelphia Flyers' 3-2 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals with my esteemed colleague Mark Trible.

Sitting directly behind us were two men speaking in what to our ignorant American ears sounded like Russian. Yet, these two passionate hockey fans were hooting and hollering and even making sheep sounds every time Caps lethal scorer and three-time Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin touched the puck. These were not complimentary cheers. Quite they contrary — they were straight-up jeering Ovechkin every time the frozen rubber disc hit his stick.

It grew even louder when Ovie blasted his patented power-play one-timer by Philadelphia netminder Steve Mason to give the visiting Capitals a 1-0 lead.

This went on all night. At first, we thought perhaps they were there solely to bestow their ire on Ovechkin. But as the game went on, it was clear that both of them were ardent hockey and Flyers fans. They were cheering and cheering loud, as excitable as anyone else in the building.

Finally, as the game neared its regulation conclusion, Mark asked the two where they were from. They responded that they were from the Ukraine — though made it a point to relay, "But we are Americans!" They sure were.

As we continued to talk a bit, one of the gentlemen let us know that Ovechkin's name means "baaaaah" in their country, the sound a sheep makes. That's why they were heckling him with that noise, as well as hooting, hollering and everything in between. They really did not like the Russian sniper at all.

In fact, our new friend told us flat out: "He is Russian. He should play in Russia." In other words, stay in your own country and leave us — maybe the U.S. and the Ukraine? — alone.

I didn't ask why there was all this hate for Alexander Ovechkin, and this morning as I explored the dynamics between Russia and Urkaine, I'm glad I didn't. As an ugly American, my memory was somewhat jogged after seeing the war and conflict stories surrounding Russia and Ukraine, but I had completely forgotten about it until my interest was piqued last night. I even stumbled upon stories of Ovechkin himself making statements against war. But the contention between the two nations is real, and last night was a perfect example.

And there I was, at a hockey game — a game the Flyers eventually won 3-2 in overtime thanks to a game-winner from rising star and current NHL points and assists leader Jakub Voracek and the play of Sean Couturier and his linemates — learning about a different culture and bonding with a couple of Americans by way of Ukraine who happen to be Flyers fans.

It may sound hokey and tired, but last night, I truly did embrace people from a different culture with a different background because of our tie to sports, our love of hockey and the Orange and Black. And that short, friendly, frankly funny encounter led me to investigate more and learn about the goings-on outside of my insular world. I began to discover the dissension between Russia and the Ukraine, and now I have a better understanding of something I never would have thought to even look up had it not been for a couple of fellow hockey fans.

Last night, Trible and I did not shock the world. The world shocked us.

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