Ben Raby, wtop.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Less than 24 hours after Alex Ovechkin touched down at Dulles International Airport, the Washington Capitals' captain skated with nine of his teammates Tuesday morning at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
The number of participants at the Capitals' informal skates is expected to grow throughout the week as players make their way back to Washington following the NHL lockout. The 113-day work stoppage ended early Sunday morning when the NHL and NHLPA reached a new collective bargaining agreement. An abbreviated training camp is expected to begin next weekend.
"It's over, so I'm happy to [be] back," Ovechkin said. "It was a hard time, but I think everybody [misses] hockey so badly right now. It's nice to be back."
Ovechkin was one of eight Capitals to have spent at least some time playing professionally in Europe during the lockout. In 31 games with Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, Ovechkin had a team-high 19 goals and 40 points.
"I think it's going to help me," Ovechkin said of his KHL experience. "Again, it's better to play hockey than sit out there and just come [to a rink] and make a skate by yourself and do nothing. We're hockey players- we need to [play]."
In addition to playing for his hometown hockey club, Ovechkin celebrated his 27th birthday during the NHL lockout, spent New Year's Eve in his native Moscow for the first time in 13 years and proposed to his longtime girlfriend, tennis pro Maria Kirilenko.
"For me, personally, it was great. First of all I was in my hometown with my family, my friends… Play my home team in front of my old fans. I think I have very good experience there. I can see why [Dynamo Moscow] were the champions last year. I [learned] a lot from the guys up there, too."
All of this during what arguably may have been the most frustrating four months of Ovechkin's professional career.
In September, Ovechkin threatened to stay in Europe if the NHL would reduce player salaries and the two-time NHL MVP reiterated those claim on multiple occasions during the lockout.
General Manager George McPhee said Tuesday that the comments never worried him. "He was coming back," McPhee said.
"And it's my understanding that within ten hours of the handshake deal that he was packed up, moved out and on a plane… He wants to be playing and it's the best league in the world. If you're a competitive guy it's the place you want to be."
Added Ovechkin: "Everything right now, it's over. Sometimes you just think, 'Why we do that?' But probably we can stay all day talking about that with [the media]. But it's over, so I'm happy to [be] back. It was hard time, but I think everybody miss hockey so badly right now. It's nice to be back.
"It was hard time for us, for some of us, but it's over. I don't know why we do it."
Ovechkin was joined at KCI Tuesday by forwards Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks and Mike Ribeiro, defensemen John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen and Mike Green and goalie Braden Holtby.
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