Ovechkin: "It's Just the Beginning"
After Alex Ovechkin finally escaped from the throngs inside the NHL Store for a few moments on Wednesday afternoon and retreated to an upstairs studio, one of his police escorts asked him about the start of training camp.
"Can't wait, actually," Ovechkin said.
I can understand why. He's had two full days of media madness in New York, and is now headed to Toronto for sponsor obligations on Thursday. At the NHL Store for the NHL 2K10 event, he was mobbed by a crowd that chanted "O-V, O-V," a crowd that featured children on father's shoulders, and squealing girls, and fans calling out entreaties in Russian. Inside the NHL Store, there were Ovechkin mannequins, new Ovechkin t-shirts with his gap-toothed smile--he left with two dozen--and more screaming fans.
"It happens every time," he told me. "In Russia they just say hi, no one's bothering, no signatures. Here, more intense, more aggressive people for signature stuff."
Indeed, the aforementioned NYPD folks had a pretty stout job of it, beating back the hordes as Ovechkin signed autographs and posed for photos. Ovechkin's only been back in the country for a few days, but he's already predicting that his celebrity in the District will go to another level this year.
"It's gonna be sick; I mean, crazy," he said. "Fans is gonna be unbelievable....It's just the beginning, I think, because I'm only 23. It's gonna be a long way."
(Note: The above photo was taken in that studio, when Ovechkin discovered a dismembered bobbly head of Bruce Boudreau. "Unbelievable," he said. "No respect." My Bruce head fell off, too.)
Throughout a day of interviews, Ovechkin was mostly curt when asked about the Caps, but he made it clear that he wants to improve his own game, and that he expects his team to be better, too.
"For sure," he told me. "Experienced team, get more experience, getting older and have fresh blood, new blood--coaches, trainers, players."
When I first asked him about last year's Game 7 loss to the Penguins, he said he forgot about it as soon as the game was over.
"No...I'm lying," he then corrected himself. "Probably two weeks. If I scored breakaway, maybe it's gonna be different scenario."
And does he think about that still?
"No, never," he said. "Why?"
Because it was an amazing series, I suggested.
"So it was amazing," he said. "It's history."
And he admitted that he was jealous of the Penguins when they hoisted the Cup; "good jealous, not bad jealous," he clarified. "It's just a good jealous, because I want to win. I don't like to see different guys, different players, different teams win the Stanley Cup, and we're not."
Still, his was most enthusiastic when talking about his upcoming training camp and meeting his new teammates.
"Can't wait," he said again. "I wanna see new guys, old guys, just drive my car, see old friends. I miss hockey. I miss D.C. I miss [the] team. It's gonna be fun year, again."
Ovechkin said his health was 100 percent, "thanks God," and that it was "much different" from during the playoff run. He also gave about four different versions of his stock answer to the question of which matters more, Olympic Gold or the Cup. ("Both," is the basic answer.)
As for the zamboni ride, when he first climbed on, I asked if he was nervous.
"A little," he said. "Probably I'm gonna break this car."
Then he put his foot down on what I assume was the gas pedal. The pedal came off, and wound up in his hand. He proudly showed it to the gathering crowd.
"I don't know, it's pretty old zamboni," he said, after finding out he was riding on an '86 model. "Twenty-two year old zamboni, are you kidding me?"
Drove like it, too. His top speed was well below that of the duck boat that cruised by on 46th.
"I can't go faster because people was in front of me," Ovechkin later told a CTV crew. "If I go fast probably I go to jail and miss my training camp."
After we finished talking, Ovechkin left the store with a police escort, and quickly attracted another mob of 40 people while he climbed into a limo.
"Alex has certainly crossed over," observed Chris Snyder, the director or marketing for 2K Sports. "That was one of the things that went into picking Alexander as a cover athlete. We wanted a guy that's crossed over from your typical NHL star into a pop icon. Any time that there's Washington D.C. rappers talking about Alexander Ovechkin, you know that he's hitting on a different level, and that was a big part of why we looked at him as a cover athlete He's the only type of guy that could draw this kind of a crowd, which was a mob scene."
Or like Ovechkin told NHL.com's Dan Rubin, "It's another good day to be Alex Ovechkin."
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