NHL great Ovechkin forms 'Putin Team' movement to back Kremlin leader

(Reuters) - Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is forming a public movement in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is all but certain to seek a new term in office next year.

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Ovechkin, a Russian national team forward, made ice hockey history last month, scoring four goals to become the first player in a century to claim back-to-back hat-tricks to open a season as the Capitals routed the Montreal Canadiens 6-1.

“Personal awards and prizes - all this is great, but in hockey, just as in any business, a team is more important for a victory,” Ovechkin wrote on Instagram on Thursday.

“I have never hidden my attitude towards our president, always openly supporting him,” he added. “I am confident that there are many of us, supporting Vladimir Putin. So let’s unite and show everyone a united and strong Russia!”

He made no mention of Russia’s next presidential election in March, in which Putin, with public approval ratings in Russia hovering at above 80 percent, is widely expected to run.

Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy, has not said if he will seek his fourth term as president.

Ovechkin said his movement would be called “Putin Team”, an idea derived from a cliche “Putin’s team” used by Western media.

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“I liked very much this definition. I am personally ready to be part of such a team,” Ovechkin said.

“It’s like that feeling when you put on a jersey of Russia’s national team, knowing that the entire country will be rooting for you.”

Ice hockey is a relatively recent sporting passion for Putin, a black belt in judo whose other hobbies include mountain skiing, horse-riding and diving.

Together with former Soviet and Russian hockey players, ministers and showbiz celebrities, Putin founded an “NHL” of his own - the Night Hockey League - and he often wins its annual cups.

Putin is not yet aware of Ovechkin’s initiative, TASS news agency cited a Kremlin spokesman as saying.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Ed Osmond