Hard to hate No. 8

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

You knew Alexander Ovechkin is a fantastic hockey player.

You knew the Washington Capitals star has a gregarious personality, both on and off the ice.

Did you know he's a nerd?

Yep, he's a computer geek.

The NHL's reigning MVP and scoring champ admitted he spends some of his time scouring the Internet and visiting the chat boards to see what's up.

Now that's a new generation hockey player.

"It's funny after the reporters put something in the newspaper, you go to the Internet and watch the fans and the notes they put," explained Ovechkin yesterday. "I like that stuff. I always go to our Caps message board and read what they say about our game and my game.

"It's fun."

As if there weren't already enough reasons to be a fan of Alexander the Gr8.

Fans in Calgary get a rare chance to see first-hand what makes Ovechkin such a special player tonight when the Flames play host to the Capitals. It's his first visit to the Stampede City in two years and only second time as an NHLer.

He provided a bit of insight yesterday afternoon, meeting with media at the team hotel immediately upon arriving in the city.

Among the topics brought up was the recent game between the Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins in which Ovechkin nailed countryman Evgeni Malkin with several hard bodychecks.

The reaction has been chatter on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as to whether the pair have a bitter feud.

Ovechkin, decked out with a stylized toque -- with stripes the Cat in the Hat would envy and emblazoned with a No. 8 -- knows there are all kinds of theories buzzing the 'net but said he was doing no more than his job.

"Just playing hard. If it's not Malkin, it's somebody else I'm hitting," Ovechkin said. "It's nothing personal -- I like him, he's my friend. But when we go to the ice, we're not friends."

He also let it be known he didn't quite agree with Sean Avery's assertion the NHL is wrong to be marketing a player like Flames captain Jarome Iginla, since he's "not exciting enough" and doesn't "bring enough to the game."

"I don't think Jarome Iginla's a boring player. He's an exciting player to watch. Probably Sean Avery and Jarome Iginla are different level players," said Ovechkin, while moving his hands like an unbalanced scale. "I think that's why (Avery)'s talking so much right now."

A shot at Avery? Man, more reason to cheer for Ovechkin.

Want another? He was at the Washington Redskins game on the weekend with Mike Green, Chris Clark and Nicklas Backstrom, and wearing a goofy hat in the shape of an old-school football helmet.

"I'm right now a Redskins fan," Ovechkin said. "This is my third game, and I try to learn more rules, the game and met a couple of players.

"It's a pretty exciting game to watch."

Naturally, the next question is whether the 6-foot-2, 220-lb. sniper would like to try his hand at gridiron.

"No, I'm not a physical guy like that," he said. "They're big, strong. I'm like a little kid."

There is a serious side to Ovechkin, too.

For instance, there's the subject of Alexei Cherepanov's untimely death last week at a KHL game in Russia.

"It's a hard time for all Russian players -- it was a hard time for me. The last couple games, I think about this and it's hard to concentrate. You never know when something like that can happen. I feel sorry for his family."

Or mention to him the expectations surrounding the Capitals on the heels of their great leap forward last season.

"We have had a pretty good start," he said. "The team is going up, and we're ready to move forward.

"I think everybody understands we're not just guys who play hockey. We're a good team with good players."

While the Caps have started strong out of the gates with a 3-1-1 record, Ovechkin has but two goals and one assist so far.

"My start is not good. I don't know what I can say. You can see right now the most important thing is our team is doing well," he said. "Of course, I try to score goals, I try to make some points, but if I have 20 points in five games and we lost five games, it would be no good.

"It's coming. Don't worry. (Tonight), you'll see."


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