Ovie's visit a watershed event

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

It should, basically, be a good thing.

Nine times this year, teams will play in Vancouver one night, then fly over the Rockies to play in Edmonton the next.

It should give the Oilers an unfair competitive advantage over the Canucks this year.

But it's also given Vancouver an Alex Ovechkin advantage over Edmonton.

For the past two days, the city that will host the greatest athletes on ice and snow during the February Olympics has gone ga-ga for the Russian who is taking his place as the greatest player in the game.

It has, by all reports, been an occasion similar to that first experienced way back when the Canucks came into the league and Bobby Orr made his first visit to Canada's left coast.

It was, by all accounts, two days of Ovie-mania, with a memorable scene at practice and a two-hour signing session at the Olympic Superstore at The Bay in downtown Vancouver, which is reported to have drawn about 1,000 fans.

Ovechkin said he enjoyed it immensely.

"I wish I could tell you what Alex Ovechkin said after practice, but I couldn't get within 10 feet of his locker stall," reported Tarik El-Bachir of Capitals Insider of the reception at the practice.

'BORDERLINE INSANE'

"You think Ovechkin is popular with the media back home?

"It's borderline insane in Canada."

Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, currently the No. 1 team overall in the NHL, landed in Edmonton well after midnight. It's questionable if The Great 8 and his mates will even take the morning skate.

Until he steps on the ice for the 8 p.m. game on Hockey Night In Canada, it's not likely you'd even notice he's been here.

That's too bad.

This visit deserves to be a special event, complete with a memorable scene at the rink at practice and various sightings and interactions with an engaging guy who is a throwback to hockey players who used to make a lot less money but enjoyed sharing themselves with the fans to a much greater degree than they do today.

Ovechkin, indeed, had a good quote on that subject after practice in Vancouver on Thursday.

"It's good stuff for me," he told reporters.

"People are going to recognize me, are going to shake my hand and ask me to sign stuff.

"It's easy. I just concentrate on my game, not about being the face of the NHL and some cover guy.

"I love attention. I love doing what I'm doing. I love crazy stuff.

"But my job is to play hockey."

Ovechkin has only played here once before in the NHL's insane scheduling throughout the first decade of the new millennium.

That was Oct. 28, 2006.

It was before he'd become Alex Ovechkin. Before he was christened The Great 8.

It was back when he only had 58 of the 240 goals he had going into last night.

It was before he became a two-time winner of both the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and the Rocket Richard trophy as the top goal-getter.

PHENOMENON

There's a phenomenon that existed when an icon like Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux came to town which made the shared experience of a dad taking his son to the game an enduring memory -- not just of the player, but of the father.

We're getting close to that stage with Ovechkin on this trip.

It'll almost assuredly be there when he returns to play here, oh, maybe sometime after the next lockout.

What makes this one different is that this player isn't a Canadian. He's a Russian.

And, while we wanted Sidney Crosby to be the Next One, this 24-year-old, who is now being called the most exciting player in the game since Gretzky,has become the No. 1 reason not to bet on Team Canada to capture the gold medal in Vancouver in February.

But maybe the thing that's making him grow on us the most is that he combines skill with toughness, passion and emotion.

He's the complete package of what a Canadian hockey player is supposed to be -- a combination which seems to be in such a short supply on Canadian teams like, oh, say the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens ... and the Edmonton Oilers ...

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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