Alex Ovechkin switches skates, Russia retools power play
Here's another hockey update from Sport-Express' Slava Malamud, who will be blogging for us throughout the Games:
Say goodbye to the Wild Sheep Skates! Maybe...
Alex Ovechkin, whose painted blades have been the talk of the Olympic hockey tournament, said after the Friday morning practice that due to some unspecified damage to one of them, he will go back to his old gear. Too bad. The new skates featured an image of a rabid sheep with a missing tooth. Ovechkin's last name is derived from the Russian word "ovechka", which means "little sheep," and his nickname among Russian teammates is and always has been "Ovtsa," or "sheep."
Unless the skates can be fixed quickly, we may not see this particularly bad-mannered farm animal on Ovie's feet any time soon.
So, it was less sheepishness but quite the usual amount of rabid at the Britannia Rink on Friday. The Russians finished up the practice with a shootout challenge, as all the players took turns trying to score on Semyon Varlamov. Ovechkin and the ex-Cap Viktor Kozlov were among the last to solve the young goaltender and Ovie was taking his misfortune pretty hard. In one episode, he had Varlamov beaten only to hit the goalpost, and this prompted Ovechkin to unleash an expletive-laden, screaming soliloquy which had his teammates laughing. His celebration after he finally scored was even louder.
Also at the practice, the Russians were looking at new power-play combinations, with Ovechkin and Semin playing on different units. This time they experimented with putting Ovechkin down in the crease, with Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin on the wings and Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar at the points. If the coaches like what they saw, this could wind up being a killer combo.
As for Varlamov, we have already reported that he spends a great amount of his time in the company of the Soviet goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak, as they sit together in the press box during the games. Tretiak is in Vancouver in a triple capacity: as the Russian general manager, as the goaltending coach and as the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. As if that were not enough, he is also a member of the Russian parliament, the State Duma.
After the practice I asked Tretiak to talk about his quality time with the young Caps netminder.
"We share our impressions on the play of different goalies," Tretiak said. "It's both a conversation and a learning session that we have up there. We look at the mistakes that some goalies can make. [At the Slovakia game], for example, we looked very closely at Ilya Bryzgalov, who played extremely well, with hardly any mistakes and no unnecessary movements. This is something a young goalie needs to see.
"Varlamov is a great young goalie, with a lot of potential," he added. "I have seen a lot of his games this year and was quite impressed. Also, he is just a great boy, a very nice human being."
February 20, 2010; 9:01 AM ET
Categories: Alex Ovechkin , Ice hockey , Vancouver 2010
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