Having fun with Great 8

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Over to you, Grapes.

Having recently been criticized by Don Cherry for his overzealous goal celebrations, the always-entertaining Alex Ovechkin last night responded as he always does.

With flair.

In order to back up his stance that yes, he is, in fact, a fan of Cherry, the Washington Capitals superstar took part in his usual pre-game soccer warmup about 90 minutes before game time wearing a Coach's Corner T-shirt and Hockey Night in Canada shorts.

On the back of his shirt was the word "RESPECT," something his detractors have claimed he has not shown enough of recently.

Those allegations escalated last week in Tampa when Ovechkin celebrated his 50th goal of the season by placing his stick on the ice, then waving his hands over it, suggesting his twig was too hot to pick up.

Lightning players and staff, not to mention Cherry, felt the act was inappropriate, inferring that Ovechkin was attempting to rub it in the opposition's collective faces.

The Great Eight, as he is referred to in Washington, can't understand what all the fuss is about.

He shot. He scored. He celebrated. End of story.

"If you win the lottery -- a million dollars -- you go to the bar and drink a lot," Ovechkin told a gaggle of reporters at the Air Canada Centre yesterday.

"I scored 50 goals and just wanted to celebrate."

If anyone should have been criticized for the incident, it should have been Ovechkin's choreographer. Let's face it. The bit was not that funny. Warren Sapp and his jiggling belly attempting the fox trot on Dancing With The Stars would elicit more yuks.

Caps officials were correct in talking to Ovechkin after the incident, making sure he understands that you do not do anything that could be interpreted as kicking sand in the opposition's face.

Having said that, this entire notion that Ovechkin does not show respect because of his celebrations, well, that's going a little too far.

You want real examples of athletes showing disrespect on the ice or the field?

Disrespect is Terrell Owens, then with the San Francisco 49ers, scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys, then running to the big star at the 50-yard-line of Texas Stadium to pose.

Disrespect is Ilya Kovalchuk scoring a goal, then skating past the penalty box and pointing directly at Sidney Crosby.

Disrespect is Sean Avery, with his back to the play, doing jumping jacks in front of Martin Brodeur.

NOT AS BLATANT

All those events actually occurred. In each instance, the player in question was showing up an opponent.

Ovechkin's actions last week in Tampa were nowhere near as blatant.

So why all the hubbub?

"As Canadians, we tend to be conservative," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Twenty-five years ago, we got mad at the Russians for showing no emotion. Now they're showing emotion and we're mad at them again.

"It's not like (Ovechkin) is going to score, pull out a Sharpie, sign his stick, then hand it to Ron (Wilson)."

Why not? That would be funny.

And, in a league where bland personalities rule, the NHL should embrace Ovechkin's colourful, enthusiastic personality.

"It's good for our league, it's good for our fans," Ovechkin said of his goal celebrations.

"Some players are like robots. They score goals and it's like, okay, no emotion, nothing. You have to show emotion if you're an emotional guy. Show it. You don't have to think about it if somebody doesn't like it.

"I don't care about it if somebody doesn't like it. I play myself, I enjoy my life, I've enjoyed my whole career. If somebody (doesn't) like it, don't watch my game, don't watch what I'm doing on the ice."

If you watched him last night, you saw him kiss his finger as a tribute to the crowd after scoring his team's first goal.

What would Cherry say about such an act? Ovechkin himself doesn't know.

But he does enjoy Coach's Corner. Honest.

"His TV show is very popular ... I like it," Ovechkin said.

Over to you, Grapes.


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