Ovechkin is NHL's true rock star

January, 24, 2009
MONTREAL -- Alexander Ovechkin is the NHL's first rock star.

Maybe, in that early '70s NHL show, Boston's Derek Sanderson was something like that. But Sanderson had nowhere (and I mean, nowhere) near the skill Ovechkin brings to the rink. Watching A.O. during All-Star weekend, it's not hard to notice his swagger, which, by the way, is a great thing for a sport that can use a little more personality.

During the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge, Ovechkin didn't disappoint the packed house at Bell Centre. After failing on his third trick-shot attempt, he skated to the bench where, of all people, his evidently new friend Evgeni Malkin had a big floppy beach hat (which had a small Canadian flag attached to it) and a monster-size pair of shades.

Malkin helped Ovechkin get into his new look, wiped off his sunglasses and offered him a swig of Gatorade. Then, Ovie took two sticks -- one righty and one lefty (probably Malkin's) -- and moved toward the goalie with a puck. He passed the puck back and forth between his two twigs before discarding his natural right-handed stick. Shooting lefty, he fired a low shot that was stopped by the goaltender (not one of the All-Stars). Not to be denied, Ovechkin poked the rebound past the stopper and launched into celebration mode. As he skated back toward the bench, the Capitals megastar threw red his hat and shades into the crowd, which loved his energy.

This guy really gets it. He understands there's an entertainment element to this old game of ours.

Now, while the moves were fun to watch, Ovechkin's unexpected public interaction with Malkin had to catch most puck-watchers by surprise. The two Russian-born stars have been estranged over a personal matter that neither player was too interested in discussing. The feud caught the eye of fans and media when both players went out of their way to hit each other in recent games between the Caps and Pens.

According to one source, Thrashers captain (and fellow Russian star) Ilya Kovalchuk brokered the peace deal between Ovie and Geno. In playing the part of peacemaker, Kovalchuk might have been looking toward the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The three snipers figure to be a big part of Team Russia's gold-medal hopes.

During the YoungStars Game, Ovechkin and Kovalchuk sat side-by-side on the Sophomore team bench. Earlier, Kovalchuk went new media, working his BlackBerry in the locker room. I think he was trying to cast a vote in the Fan Fav competition. Devils winger Zach Parise came to his aid, helping him find what he was searching for. Later, Ovechkin said he voted for Steven Stamkos. C'mon Ovie, you know you wanted to vote for yourself! Everybody else voted for you.

  • In a rare moment, a Boston Bruin thrilled the crowd in Montreal. Big Zdeno Chara smashed the league's hardest shot record with a blast that registered at 105.4 mph. Chara bested the old mark of 105.2 mph set by rugged defenseman Al Iafrate in 1993. The Bruins captain edged out Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who held the lead with a 103.4 mph shot.

  • The Bridgestone NHL Faster Skater competition was a disappointment. I didn't think any of the six skaters (Parise, Jeff Carter, Brian Campbell, Jay Bouwmeester, Mason Raymond and Andrew Cogliano) looked all that comfortable racing around the edges of the rink. Rightfully, they all looked a little worried about pulling a groin or losing an edge. That's not the way you want to remember your All-Star weekend. In the end, Cogliano won the event with a time of 14.31 seconds. He was 0.12 of a second faster than Carter. Raymond had the most memorable run. He suffered through a rough first turn, forcing him to backskate his way out of the corner.

  • The YoungStars game, a 3-on-3 tilt between a team of rookies and a gaggle of second-year players, was a bit of a snoozer. The game was predictably high-scoring. Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler netted three goals to lead the Luc Robitaille-coached club to a 9-5 victory over Peter Mahovlich's sophomores. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal had a pair of goals in a losing effort. Preds stopper Pekka Rinne outlasted Habs hero Carey Price to get the win.

  • Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, returning to his former home rink in Montreal, added an unintentional comic moment to the night when he accidently skated through the flimsy on-ice signage during the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout. Streit laughed off the accident, which got a rise out of the crowd. The sign, however, didn't fare so well. It was trashed and moved to the sideboards.

  • Coyotes captain Shane Doan eventually won the Elimination Shootout, which seemed to go on for quite a while. So long, in fact, I thought they were going to have to play a game of 5-on-5 hockey to determine the winner.
  • E.J. Hradek

    Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
    E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.




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