With all the recent controversy over his latest goal celebration (completely unnecessary if you ask me but that is another article) I decided it was time to write about Mr. Alex Ovechkin. If there has been a more “exciting” player in hockey in the last 20 years, I am not sure who it could possibly be. The man combines amazing skill, speed, physical domination and a boyish enthusiasm for the game that has never been seen before.
Maybe it helped that both of Ovechkin’s parents were good athletes as well? Alex was born on September 17, 1985 to Mikhail Ovechkin, a former soccer player and Tatyana Ovechkina, a winner of two Olympic gold medals with the Russian Women’s Basketball team in 1976 and 1980.
Like most hockey players, Ovechkin found his love for the game at a very young age. He was two years old when he first picked up a hockey stick and whenever he saw a game on television he would drop what he was doing and not allow his parents to change the channel.
At 8 year’s old, Alex’s older brother Sergei would introduce him to organized hockey and Alex would enroll in hockey school. At one point, his parents were no longer able to get Alex to hockey so Sergei stepped in and made sure that he could get his little brother wherever he needed to go. He was one of the first to notice the talent in Alex, and he wanted to be sure he was able to use it.
Unfortunately, years later an event would happen that would change Ovechkin forever. His older brother Sergei, in his early 20’s at the time, was tragically killed in a car accident. To this day Ovechkin still credits his brother for introducing him to and pushing him to continue playing hockey. Many say his passion for the game comes from this tragic event and to this day, when he scores, Alex will often kiss his glove and point to the sky in a salute to his brother.
Unlike the NHL, there are youth programs in Russia that are connected with the professional game. Ovechkin actually played for the same “organization” from the time he started hockey until he was drafted in the NHL. Before becoming a professional, Alex was already making a name for himself in the Dynamo Moscow system when at 11 years old he broke Pavel Bure’s record of 53 goals by scoring 56 of his own.
Ovechkin began his professional hockey career at the age of 16 for Russian hockey power Dynamo Moscow during the 2001-02 season. By the time he was 18, he won the Russian Superleague (“RSL”) award for the best left-wing in the league for the 2003-04 season and was the youngest player ever to lead Dynamo Moscow in scoring. Many believe the RSL is the second best league in the world to the NHL.
Ovechkin officially arrived on the international hockey stage in 2003 when he was selected to play for Russia at the World Junior Hockey Championships, scoring a tournament leading 6 goals to help Russia capture gold. It was this performance that turned a lot of heads in North America.
Between 2002 and 2008, Ovechkin would make a huge mark on international hockey. At the age of 16, led the Junior National Team (Under 18) to a gold medal. At 17, he was chosen by coach Victor Tikhonov to play in the Ceska Pojistovna Cup Euro Tournament, becoming the youngest player in history to play for the team. At 18 years old, Ovechkin was named captain of the Junior National Team, finishing 5th place in the tournament. At 19 years old, he was named to the Russian National Team for the World Cup of Hockey, the youngest player in the tournament. Also at 19 years old, Ovechkin was named captain of the silver medal winning team at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Ovechkin was named the best player in the tournament.
In 2005, Ovechkin would play in his first IIHF Men’s World Championship. He would also play for the Russian team again in 2006, 2007 and 2008, finally leading his team to the gold medal in 2008.
In 2006, Ovechkin played in his first Winter Olympic Games. Russia would come away without a medal, he scored 5 goals in the tournament and was the only player named to the all-tournament team not from the gold medal winning Sweden or silver medal winning Finland.
Ovechkin has accumulated 60 goals and 84 points in 71 games of international competition to date.
Ovechkin’s dream came true in 2004 when he became the first overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. Unfortunately, the 2004-05 season would never happen due to labor negotiations and Ovechkin would return to Dynamo Moscow for one final season.
Ovechkin would make his NHL debut during the 2005-2006 season, along with the NHL’s new golden boy Sidney Crosby. This would result in a rivalry that continues to this day and I am sure will continue as long as both are in the league. Ovechkin didn’t take long to make an impact, scoring two goals in his first game with the Capitals on October 5, 2005. He would finish the season with 52 goals and 106 points, edging out his rival Crosby for the Calder Trophy awarded to the league’s rookie of the year. He would also be placed on the post season All Rookie Team , was a First Team All-Star and was awarded the Kharlamov Trophy for the best Russian NHL Player. Not too shabby for a rookie season, eh?
During January of that season, Ovechkin would score what immediately became one of the greatest goals ever scored in the NHL. If you are one of the few that have not seen this goal, it can be seen here.
During his second season, 2006-2007, Ovechkin would take a step back, if you consider 46 goals and 92 points a step back. He would again be awarded the Kharlamov Trophy and was a First Team All Star.
The following season, Ovechkin would not only take a step forward, but would surpass his rookie season as well becoming the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1996 to score 60 goals in a single season, finishing with 65 goals and 112 points. He would become the first player to be awarded the 4 major post season awards, the Lester B. Pearson Award for the Most Outstanding Player, the Hart Memorial Trophy awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player, the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point getter and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the league’s leading goal scorer. He was also awarded a contract extension during the season, 13 years for $124 million, the richest contract in NHL history.
While all that was wonderful, what Ovechkin was happy about most was his first opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In hard fought series with the Philadelphia Flyers, Ovechkin would score 4 goals and 9 points in 7 games. Unfortunately for Oveckin and the Capitals, Flyer’s goaltender Martin Biron stood on his head in game 7 and stole the series for the Flyers.
Always one for excitement, Ovechkin has also made a name for himself during the NHL All Star Skills Competition both in 2008 and 2009 during the new Breakaway Competition, the NHL’s version of the slam dunk contest. In 2008, Ovechkin won when he kept the puck up in the air with his stick while skating down the ice, only to stop and spin and hit the puck out of the air towards the net. In 2009, not quite as flashy but certainly exciting for hte audience in Montreal, he was handed a hat bestowed with the Canadian flag and white sunglasses and skated down the ice and scored. Ovechkin would later score the winning goal in the shootout for during the 2009 All Star Game the next day.
Finally, that controversy I previously mentioned? During a February 2009 segment of Hockey Night in Canada, Ovechkin was criticized by Don Cherry for his exuberant celebrations after scoring. On March 19, 2009, this controversy hit a boiling point when, after scoring his 50th goal of the season, Ovechkin put his stick on the ice warming his hands over it as if it was “hot”. The incident sparked immediate response on both sides of the argument from many coaches and players.
Through the 2008-09 season, after a very slow start, Ovechkin has accumulated 51 goals and 96 points in 72 games. He is looking forward to another opportunity in the playoffs. I believe I speak for most in the hockey world in saying that this legend is still growing and boy am I going to enjoy watching it. Goal celebrations and all!
For Ovechkin’s career stats, refer to the Internet Hockey Database
Did You Know?
- Ovechkin was so highly regarded that since he missed being eligible for the 2003 draft by 2 days, the Florida Panthers tried to draft him in the 9th round anyway and then claimed the pick was legit because factoring in leap years would have made him eligible.
- For January 2006, Ovechkin was named Rookie of the Month and Offensive Player of the Month, only the third in history to receive both honors in the same month
- He set a rookie record for 425 shots
- On February 5, 2009, became only the 4th player in NHL history (Bossy, Gretzky and Lemieux) to score his 200th goal in his 4th season
- He is the first Capital to score 50 goals 3 times
- After winning the Hart Trophy, Ovechkin was given the key to the city by Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty for being the first MVP in the area since Joe Theismann of the Redskins in 1983
- Ovechkin launched his own line of designer street-wear from CCM in 2008
- Ovechkin’s idol growing up was Owen Nolan