Alex a 'character' guy

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:49 PM ET

There's just no slowing down Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin.

Whether it's on the ice, in his car, or touring the U.S. capital on a Segway, speed is his ultimate goal.

Signs -- things like posted speed limits, or maybe warnings hammered into a sandy oceanside beach -- do nothing to impede the 22-year-old's progress.

Capitals captain Chris Clark remembers a trip to Florida last season that perfectly paints the picture of Ovechkin's fun-loving, full-speed-ahead personality.

"We were in Ft. Lauderdale and staying on the beach. We had a couple of days in between games and him and someone else -- I can't remember who it was -- just ran into the ocean," recalled the former Calgary Flames winger.

"I'm not sure if he'd ever been in the ocean on the other side of the world, but ran in ignoring the jellyfish signs and came out with two giant jellyfish stings."

Anyone who's ever felt the stinging tentacles of the floating invertebrates would figure the pain could knock the smile off Ovechkin's face.

Instead, the happy-go-lucky superstar enthusiastically displayed the wound to his teammates.

Still wearing the smile that seems to be permanently etched across his face.

"He wouldn't be hiding it," said Clark. "He's the first one to go out and show everybody and tell them what happened.

"It didn't bother him on the ice, but you could see the big black and blue mark where it stung him."

What you see is what you get with the Russian sniper, who first grabbed a hockey stick and helmet off the shelves in a toy store at the age of two, and since then has never let go of his dream.

That precious moment was captured on film by his parents Mikhail and Tatiana -- both athletes in their own right -- and the picture is a proud and lighthearted part of their family album.

He smiles because he loves the game of hockey, loves being in the NHL, and, just generally, loves life.

Even after losing a tooth in Atlanta earlier this season, he grinned when his mug was on the big screen, and joked about his new look with reporters in Washington upon his return.

"It makes me look hot. Girls like it," said Ovechkin back in October. "Like a warrior."

Clark can vouch for Ovechkin's upbeat attitude, and says he's always smiling at the rink.

"Yeah, all the time. I don't know what he's like away from the rink at home, but with us he's a ball of energy. He's always up and excited.

"It's great to have people like that in your locker-room because the season wears a little bit. It's a huge lift for your team."

His teammates feed off his exuberance, and the way he plays the game with reckless abandon.

But don't mistake his 54-goal total as selfishness, because he's just as elated when a teammate pots one.

"It's not about him. He's excited to win," said Clark, who hopes to return from a lingering groin injury before the end of the regular-season. "He's excited when other people score."

That started at a young age, too.

Some of Ovechkin's earliest hockey memories are as a spectator. He lost his mind whenever someone scored. It didn't even matter which team.

"I was watching TV when I was five, maybe six years old, and I had a stick and puck in my hands," Ovechkin told NHL.com last year. "When I heard the guy on TV say, 'They score,' I started screaming.

"I was young, but I remember this moment."

His passion for watching the puck go into the net has only grown through the years.

"Sometimes he's even more excited when somebody else scores," said Clark. "If he's on the bench, he's the first one jumping up and screaming. If he's on the ice, he's usually bearhugging you somewhere if you score a goal."

A serious side to Ovechkin also exists, although not very apparent to the casual fan.

While no one will mistake him for Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf, Ovechkin approaches games with intensity.

His smashed-to-smithereens stick and crushed iPod and headphones following a 5-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning last March are proof of his potential frustration.

Winning is something he takes even more pride in now.

Scoring might have been his primary goal upon entering the world's best league, but getting to the playoffs is more important.

"You know, it's all in my mind right now to help team win because we have situation we can push forward and we can go forward. If I score goal and we win, I will be happy," Ovechkin said on a recent conference call when asked about his quest for 60 goals. "If I score 60 and we go to playoffs, I will be very happy."

Aside from winning, there's not much left for Ovechkin to prove as a player. He's already one of the most dominant in today's game.

"Individually, he's done more than anybody on our team the last three years. More than a lot of people in the league," said Clark. "His next step is to win games and make it to the playoffs and start winning championships.

"You can really tell he's evolved into a guy that wants to win -- more important than any individual statistics."

Having played with Jarome Iginla, the current Caps captain doesn't shy away from comparisons when it comes to Ovechkin's potential for leadership.

His English skills have improved as much as his hockey sense the past couple of years, but he'll probably never be a motivational speaker.

"His leadership role, for the most part, is on the ice: His work ethic," said Clark. "You don't see too many 50-goal scorers who are the first guy out there with a big hit, or going to the net. He's not the perimeter-type superstar.

"Everybody follows his lead that way.

"In the locker-room, the leadership is coming."

Iginla and Ovechkin share other personality traits, too.

"Off the ice, Iggy is one of the nicest guys I've ever met in or outside of hockey," said Clark. "Alex is the same way."

Gravitating toward Ovechkin and his bubbly personality is natural for members of the Capitals staff.

With the capacity to be a practical joker, it's good to know where he is at all times.

But that's not too difficult, says Clark.

"We have a brand new training facility. It's really big, but you know where he is all the time because of his laugh and what's going on around him," he said.

"It's really fun to be around him."


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