SUN Hockey Pool

Bad first impression

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Jeff Friesen's first impression of Alexander Ovechkin fell shy of expectations. Well shy.

Sure, Friesen -- now with the Calgary Flames but a member of the Washington Capitals through most of last season -- had heard about Alexander the Great before training camp began in the fall of 2005.

But he couldn't help but wonder what the fuss was about concerning the 2004 first-overall draft choice during the first couple of sessions.

"I didn't notice him in practice," Friesen said before adding with a chuckle, "Let's say he's not the best practice player I've ever played with. I don't know if he hits the net in practice.

"But he has that switch, when the game starts ... you see what he does. He's a very special player."

A special player the Flames and their fans will finally get to see when Ovechkin and the Capitals face Calgary tonight at the Saddledome (7 p.m., Sportsnet).

Thanks to the NHL's grossly unbalanced schedule, last year's rookie-of-the-year after becoming only the second first-year player in league history to reach 50 goals and 100 points will only come to Calgary once every three years, barring a change to the league's docket. Calgary didn't play in Washington last year, either. In fact, the Flames are the last team in the league to hit the ice against Ovechkin.

Still, that doesn't mean there aren't a few players with first-hand knowledge of the Russian phenom, who's netted six goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Friesen, with the Capitals until the trade deadline, saw plenty of Ovechkin and knows the youngster to be about more than just goals and points.

"He's a great team guy. He really has a lot of passion about wanting the team to do well," said Friesen. "He's an exciting, dynamic player, really good for the game. It was fun getting a chance to see him every day.

"He's very hungry to score goals and do that but he doesn't do that in a way it's just about him. He wants to win. He has a good balance."

On the ice, too. Ovechkin is as well known for his offensive flair as he is for his physical play.

In his NHL debut, he broke a stanchion between panes of glass with a bone-jarring hit on Radislav Suchy in the opening minute and then bagged a pair of goals.

"He hits kinda like Dion (Phaneuf)," Friesen said. "Once or twice a game he'd pound a guy hard. He's built like a bull."

But that's the amazing part of Ovechkin. He's hard to pin label.

Goaltender Jamie McLennan saw plenty of it last season, facing Ovechkin and the Capitals eight times while with the Florida Panthers.

"He's the type of guy you're aware of when he's on the ice because he tries to make something happen every shift," McLennan said.


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