NHL's best comes back out West

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 6:20 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Alex Ovechkin's entrance into GM Place yesterday said it all.

Wearing a Cookie Monster T-shirt and sporting a bad case of uncombed hair, the Russian star walked down the confines of the Garage pretending to laugh loudly into his phone while trying to avoid the cameras.

If there ever was a hockey TMZ moment, this was it.

Yet it's no surprise that Ovechkin, who looked less presentable than a stick boy, would be the centre of attention.

Playing in Vancouver for only the second time in his NHL career -- a huge mistake by the league -- and in Edmonton tomorrow, he once again needs to embrace that superstar role, this time for the West Coast fans.

"Sometimes it's kind of boring because it's the same question," said Ovechkin yesterday when asked if he gets sick of the spotlight. "Like I can put on the list and just give it to you guys."

So far into his career, the Washington Capitals forward has done everything right in terms of remaining a hot commodity.

He was sixth in NHL scoring prior to last night, and that's after missing eight games due to an injury and a suspension.

He can usually be found on highlight reels, either scoring a sensational goal or throwing a thundering check.

And then, of course, there's his eccentric and always-animated persona on and off the ice.

That's why there's a certain level of hype surrounding tonight's AO appearance.

But while fans in Western Canada rarely get to see this Russian star live, there will be plenty of Ovechkin in Vancouver come February.

He will be leading Team Russia, an obvious favourite to challenge the Canadians for the Olympic gold, and there's no doubt he's looking forward to it.

"Of course you get excited," he said. "You see Olympic logos everywhere and you just start realize this is Olympic city."

Actually No. 8, tonight it's Ovechkin city.

Leafs hungry for win

The Maple Leafs will be taking the Chicken Wing Express (the team bus) to Buffalo for a game tonight against the Sabres, armed with a couple of hungry players anxious for some action.

The club called up forward Viktor Stalberg from the Toronto Marlies yesterday and plans to dress second-year defenceman Luke Schenn, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games.

Also making the trip, and backing up Vesa Toskala, will be rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who has not played since Dec. 1. He underwent a second heart ablation two weeks ago. He may start tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins.


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