Alex Ovechkin, Russia hold first Olympic practice
Here's a hockey update from Sport-Express' Slava Malamud, who will be blogging for us throughout the Games:
Sunday was the Big Arrival day in Vancouver as the NHLers poured into the Olympic Village, and many of them held their first practices (the Canadians, quite notably, did not). The Caps' Russian contingent was on hand at Canada Hockey Place, where the roof was being raised with a vengeance. Which is not surprising, considering what kind of hotheads were assembled under it.
Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin skated together on the "black jersey line," while Semyon Varlamov was the only regular goaltender present, accompanied by two subs. At least, this was the case until well into the practice, when the Phoenix Coyotes' Ilya Bryzgalov joined the proceedings. With no place in goal for him, Bryzgalov, fully decked in goalie gear, took to playing defense in front of Varlamov, causing the young Capital no end of annoyance. Ovechkin wound up being the only player who managed to score on that particular exercise, beating both goalies with a low, glove-side wrister.
(This wouldn't remind anyone of a certain Sergei Fedorov commercial, would it?)
Speaking of Fedorov, the practice provided an opportunity for the reunion of the Capitals' Russian Five. Fedorov was spotted talking and laughing with Ovechkin and Semin during a break in the action and Viktor Kozlov, who was celebrating his 35th birthday, was congratulated by the entire team. No cake in the face, though. "You are excused from this once you hit 35," joked Kozlov afterward.
Down in the "mixed zone" -- as at the Olympics reporters are not allowed in the dressing room, all the interaction takes place in the hallway after they exit the ice -- Ovechkin talked in front of easily the biggest scrum for hockey at these Games yet.
"I don't know why they meet me like this," Ovechkin said. "I am not the president or anything."
Tomas Fleischmann has been spreading rumors about Ovechkin's choice of footwear at the Olympics. Particularly, he insisted, Ovi was planning to wear red skates. This allegation was denied by Ovechkin himself.
"I will have a twist of my own," he said. "It's a secret. You will see it for yourself."
As for his recent scoring slump, Ovi said he was saving it all for the Olympics.
No such problems for Alexander Semin, who has been red hot lately. Semin said that it is pretty much decided that he and Ovechkin will play on the same line, but nobody yet knows who the center will be. For now, he said, he was just happy to be with his countrymen.
"All of the five Washington players were on the ice together," Semin said referring, of course, to Fedorov and Kozlov as well. "This is how it should be."
As for Varlamov, he was trying very hard to put his embarrassing outing in a 6-5 loss to Ottawa behind him, though he did take all the blame for it.
"I am happy to finally be on the ice again," the 21-year-old goalie said. "Two months was a long time to be away from it. This was probably the reason [for the poor performance]. I think, I got a little rusty and didn't control the game as well.
"In principle, I agree with [Coach Bruce Boudreau's criticism]," he added. "He didn't overestimate and criticized me deservedly... Right now, though, I am 100 percent ready. It couldn't be any other way, playing for the national team.
"Everything is great here," said Varlamov when asked of his first Olympic impressions. "One thing, though: We may try to figure out something more interesting with the food. It's not top-notch here. Some of the guys ended up going to McDonald's. I don't mean to complain, it's just my first impression after visiting the cafeteria."
Varlamov also said that he is a huge Olympics fan and will try to find as much time as he can to watch the biathlon, which he loves. The issue of his mask was raised (his Caps headgear features some U.S. themes, including the stars and stripes, which wouldn't be appropriate playing for Russia), and he said there will be a new one shortly.
"I thought about it for a long time," he said, "but eventually the choice was very simple. It's just a big two-headed eagle spread all over the helmet."
It was Semin who provided the biggest highlight of the evening. Once the team arrived in the Olympic Village, the winger noticed that one of the electric golf carts used by the volunteers to haul the athletes' luggage was standing nearby with the key still in. Laughing his head off, Semin duly committed grand theft auto as he jumped into the cart, drove up to Kozlov and offered him a ride. After the older comrade abstained, Semin took a couple of laps around the Russian dorm building. There was no report on just how upset Ovechkin was that he didn't get to do it first.
February 15, 2010; 7:32 AM ET
Categories: Alex Ovechkin , Ice hockey , Vancouver 2010
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