(even Ovie’s versatility has its limitations)
Perhaps the above headline is an unjust qualification, as Washington’s’ Alexander Ovechkin is arguably the most exciting performer in North American team sports. I’ve sometimes thought if Gary Bettman hoped to leapfrog MMA and NASCAR in the hearts and minds of the lower 48, his best bet would be the cloning of Ovechkin, a sentiment the New York Times Magazine’s Charles McGarth might not totally agree with, but he’s awfully impressed, just the same (“there are now so many celebrated Ovie goals on YouTube that connoisseurs can argue over them like stamp collectors comparing the 1840 British Penny Black, say, with the 1868 Franklin Z-Grill”), making the argument the Caps’ LW is a cross-cultural mashup of sorts.
Wayne Gretzky seldom checked anyone if he could help it. His game was artistic and almost cerebral at times. Ovechkin, on the other hand, is an artist who also plays with tremendous physicality. He sometimes seems to be a brand-new kind of hockey player entirely: a hybrid who combines European finesse with North American toughness. Vladislav Tretiak, the great Soviet goaltender of the ™70s and the general manager of the Russian Olympic team, remarked of him: œHe does not look like the Soviet hockey-school player. From a side it seems that he is half-Canadian.
By the old-school, blue-collar mentality that is still fairly standard in the N.H.L., Russians were cliquish, or so it was said, selfish, unemotional, ill suited to the rigors of a bruising 82-game regular season. For every player like Sergei Federov, who became a mainstay of the great Detroit Red Wings dynasty of the late ™90s, critics and xenophobes could point to artistic head cases like Alexei Kovalev, who exasperated Rangers fans with his pirouettes, brilliant rushes and maddening giveaways in the early ™90s,.
In this context, Ovechkin is a new, superior kind of Russian. George McPhee, the Caps™ general manager, said of his star, measuring him against the player who until recently was the most talented Russian in the league, œHe™s Pavel Bure in Mark Messier™s body. In an era when most N.H.L. teams are composed of specialists ” scorers, bodyguards, defensive experts ” Ovie does everything. œI™m maximum ” a max guy, you know? he said when his English was a little less good than it is now. œI always want to be ” to do some maximums.