Smiling to superstar status

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- When Jarome Iginla jumped to the NHL, it wasn't just his talent that set him apart.

His infectious smile and humility couldn't be missed.

Of course, the media wretches were just as quick to wonder how long it would be before the pitfalls of NHL life would make that a distant memory.

Turns out -- and remember this is a player who went through seven playoff-free seasons -- the answer is it didn't happen.

With any luck, Alexander Ovechkin won't change, either.

No player in the NHL has the same exuberance as the Washington Capitals star.

Nobody celebrates a goal like him, amazing since he's scored so many in his young NHL career.

And he intends to keep it that way.

"Why do you have to change something? It's you," said Ovechkin, who scored twice last night in the Capitals 3-2 win over the Flames.

"Jarome is one of the best players in the league, and he doesn't smile because he wants to be fake. It's his personality.

"It's all about enjoying. It's all about fun. Have fun with your team."

There may be those out there who believe Ovechkin is hot dogging when he celebrates, but the Capitals don't see it that way.

"He's just as happy when the team scores. You see it on the bench -- he's the first one congratulating them," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "I think it's great that when you score a goal. You do what everybody really wants to do -- show emotion, you're happy you scored, and in a unique way.

"The guys who are reserved are doing it inside. What's inside, he does on the ice.

"He was a great player, but what's Mike Foligno known for? Boudreau continued.

"When you think of Mike Foligno, you think of his goal celebrations. And, as good as Mike was, he did a lot more than score goals.

"It's the same with Alex. He's already a great player and you can't take away the fact he's an emotional guy who shows a lot of emotion when he scores.

"I think it lifts his teammates when he scores or when his teammates score. That's the way he is, and I would never attempt to change that."

That's especially true when he keeps scoring and scoring and scoring.

Ovechkin is setting the NHL pace with 56 goals and 97 points, a career high for goals and on pace to set a new personal standard for points.

But the 22-year-old who recently signed a 13-year, US$124-million contract insists his offensive production has come while becoming a more complete player.

"A very important thing is I realize it's all about winning, not personal stuff," said Ovechkin. "When I came here, lots of people told me, 'If you want to be a superstar, you have to be the scoring leader' and stuff like that.

"But now I understand it's about the team."

True, but for now Ovechkin is the team.

During last night's game, Comcast SportsNet provided a split-screen broadcast with the 'OvechKam' recording his every move.

The affable star was trying not to become caught up in the extra attention.

"I like it, but I don't take it so close to me," he said. "I know people are watching me, people know me, but it's not a big deal.

"You still have to prove yourself."

Boudreau said Ovechkin is more than capable of handling the scrutiny that's previously been given only to players such as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.

"He knows what's at stake and knows it's all about the game. On the other hand, when people are watching him, Canadian people especially, he plays his best games," Boudreau said.

"I've got to believe he's focused enough as a man to understand the ramifications and will play just as hard whether they have a camera on him or if the president was in town watching him."


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