Ovechkin displays savvy stickwork

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

It's minutes after the Washington Capitals' morning skate when a large man wearing black Lycra and yellow Crocs slips past a throng of media types and heads back towards the ice.

While some grizzled scribes briefly construe the move as yet another slap in the face from a silver-spooned superstar, it was, in fact, quite the contrary.

Alexander Ovechkin simply wanted to see an old Russian pal in the stands and sign autographs for an unusually large 'Dome practice gathering.

After thanking every fan he patiently signed for, the 21-year-old face of the NHL regaled the media with news he had a special goal in mind while in Calgary.

"I want to try to ask Jarome Iginla for a stick," smiled Ovechkin, who cited Iginla, Owen Nolan and Mario Lemieux as his childhood heroes.

"When I have a chance, I'll ask him. Maybe in a faceoff, I'll ask. I have a Lemieux stick, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Zdeno) Chara, (Roberto) Luongo.

"I think it's nothing to ask great players for a stick because when I was little,

I dreamed of playing in the NHL and right now I'm here playing against my heroes."

Playing rather well, too, as his 52 goals, 54 assists and Calder Trophy attested to last year.

And at a time when the league could use a superstar spokesman to take over from where Lemieux left off, the ever-smiling Russian kid is, without question, the perfect fit.

"I enjoy the attention, the fans and the atmosphere here in Canada because everybody is crazy about hockey," said Ovechkin, a kid so young he still lists video games as a chief pleasure.

"I like it when I go into a store and buy video games and see my face on NHL 2007 but my goal is not to be the face of the NHL but the best player in the NHL.

"If you have a great face, it doesn't matter. You must play hard."

Finishing among league leaders last year with 172 hits, the 220-lb. left-winger plays a game similar to Iginla's -- his power complements his work ethic, skill, finish and character.

"They're both bulls," said former Flame Chris Clark, who is Washington's captain and skates with Ovechkin. "Iggy will go out there and do whatever it takes -- fight in the corner and lead that way. Same with Ovie."

Ovechkin wasted little time in last night's game reminding fans why he bettered Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf in rookie balloting. Five minutes in, the crowd gasped when Phaneuf appeared to have the Russian lined up for a hit only to have the forward turn and rock the Flame.

So talented he made headlines this summer by getting a hole-in-one on his first golf excursion, the colourful Moscovite is improving his English and one-liners daily.

("I stop, I quit, I take my sticks and break them," he joked after his ace at the team golf tourney.)

It's been almost three years since he was drafted first overall and had a chance to speak to Iginla, who just happened to call their agent, Don Meehan, that day.

"My English is not perfect now but can you imagine three years ago?" said Ovechkin, rolling his eyes.

"All I knew was 'yes,' 'no,' 'how you doing,' that's it. He wished me good luck."

All No. 8 wished for last night was a stick.

"I'd help him -- I've got a couple Iggy sticks at home, too," laughed Clark.

Sounds like Ovechkin doesn't need any help at all, thanks. He can pretty much do it all.


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