Someday soon fans are going to be able to buy Nike shoes endorsed by Alex Ovechkin -- but he spent part of his time in Manhattan for the NHL Player Media Tour making a pair of his own.
Ovechkin might have met some famous people and attended a swanky party or two, but he was clearly most excited about his trip to the Niketown store on Thursday.
"It was so sick, so sick," Ovechkin said. "I was so excited to be there. I made my shoes. It is sick. I just order, like you can build your shoe. They are just going to be mine."
He "built" a pair of shoes through the custom NikeID program. They are black and red and say "AO GR8" on the backs.
"Like my license plate," said Ovechkin, referencing the plate on his Mercedes SL 65 Black series.
Ovechkin spent part of Wednesday night at a party at the Versace Boutique. He spent some time there mingling with other players and various celebrities, and a picture of him posing with Kevin Connolly of "Entourage" fame and a well-known hockey (and in particular New York Islanders) fan.
"I know him but I don't watch 'Entourage.' It was nice to meet famous people, new guys," Ovechkin said. "I spent like 30 minutes there. It was nice to see all the players and the guys. It was nice."
What Ovechkin wears to events like the Versace party always seems to make for interesting fodder in the blogosphere. While other players were in more traditional apparel for that setting, Ovechkin showed up in a Nike T-shirt and jeans.
He was also sporting a nice watch, which the blog Capital Games at nbcwashington.com reported to be a Hublot watch that costs $238,000. Ovechkin said he's gotten use to people writing about and caring about what he wears.
"It is me. I don't care," Ovechkin said. "I have my watch, I have my jeans, my cell phone. I have underwear. I think it is good. I like to have good stuff on me. It is not a secret."
After Ovechkin was done meeting with members of the media in midtown Manhattan, he planned on an excursion to Queens to take in a match at the U.S. Open before heading back to Washington.
Several other NHL players who were here for the two days went to Flushing to watch some tennis Thursday night, and you can count Ovechkin among the many NHL players who are tennis fans.
"Yeah, of course," Ovechkin said. "Tennis is very popular [in Russia]. Of course [I like Roger] Federer but I think we're going to see [Rafael] Nadal. I'm pretty excited to see his play, and maybe I'm going to have a chance to meet him after."
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of only two teams that haven't made the playoffs since the 2004-05 work stoppage. After a late-season run brought them close last spring, captain Dion Phaneuf is eager to get started and end the drought.
"That's why we play the game. You don't just play the game to be done in April. Everyone plays to win, to give yourself a chance to win, and you don't have a chance to win if you're not in the playoffs," he told NHL.com during the annual Player Media Tour. "That's where we want to get, and that's where we have to get. We were close last year; we weren't eliminated until there were two games left in the season. We had a good run. We played hard, but we couldn't make up the ground we lost at the start of the season."
With a revamped roster that includes former Calgary teammate Matthew Lombardi, Phaneuf says the Leafs need to get off to a good start -- but adds that they can't let up."
"Getting off to a good start is important," he said. "But you can't just get off to a good start and then fall off. You've got to keep it going -- you have to be consistent. You can't have these extreme highs and extreme lows -- win three and lose four. You've got to be consistent. That's what we've got to do this year to make the playoffs."
One good thing for Phaneuf is that he's completely recovered from the midseason leg injury that cost him 16 games and slowed him even after he returned.
"It was awful," he said of the first major injury of his NHL career. "It was something that I'd never experienced. I've been hurt at the end of years and had the summer to rehab and get ready for the next year. But having a major injury is something that was not a lot of fun to go through. It was a very serious injury, one that took a lot more out of me than I expected. I probably tried to come back too early. It was a major injury that took a lot of time to heal."
Brian Campbell knows the task of helping turn the Florida Panthers into a contender is a challenging one. However, it's one he gracefully accepted back in June when he waived his no-trade clause to once again work with former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon.
"It wasn't a case that I really wanted to leave Chicago," Campbell told NHL.com Friday morning during the 2011 Player Media Tour. "I enjoyed my time there and I liked everybody. I liked my lifestyle living in Chicago, and I still am. It was tough, but knowing and talking to Dale Tallon, I knew I could trust him from his days being in Chicago. He's a man of his word. Looking at all the scenarios, I felt it was the best thing for me personally, and that's what I had to look at. I was happy to make the move to South Florida."
Campbell, who helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010, is joining an organization that hasn't made the playoffs for an NHL-record 10 consecutive seasons. But Tallon was awfully busy this summer signing talent that he hopes will end that dubious stretch. Campbell will be joined by newcomers such as Tomas Kopecky, Ed Jovanovski, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim when the puck drops on Oct. 8 against the New York Islanders.
"I do know some of the guys and I've played with some of them before, so it makes it a lot more comfortable walking into the dressing room," Campbell said. "All the guys that Dale brought in are character guys that have fun coming to the rink. They all want to compete every night. That's going to give us a chance to win.
"I feel like we're going to have success a lot quicker than people think. For us, as long as we think that in the locker room and know that it's playoffs or everything else is a failure and not acceptable, it's a good place to start. I think that's the mindset that we all need to have going into the season."
A shortened whirlwind of a summer has all but come to a close for Tim Thomas.
The Boston Bruins goaltender is finished celebrating a season that saw him win a Vezina Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup. With training camp just a week away, Thomas is one of dozens of players participating in the Player Media Tour. On Friday morning, the 37-year-old sat down with NHL.com and was asked to reflect on what has to be an unforgettable summer.
"There were a couple of times where I was able to appreciate it for a short period," Thomas said. "One was just watching the DVD. It reminded me of everything that happened. I think that's what made it kind of hard to appreciate to a certain extent. So many great things happened for us to win the Cup that even if I had the time, it's hard to wrap your mind around everything that had to go right -- the overtime goals, the save by Ryder, coming back in Montreal in the third period with Chris Kelly and Ryder scoring that overtime goal -- the list just goes on and on and on. It's part of what makes it great, but it's also part of what makes it hard to totally soak in and say, 'Wow.' "
Thomas appeared in 57 regular-season games in 2010-11 and went 35-11-9 with a 2.00 goals-against average and an NHL-record .938 save percentage. He followed up with one of more remarkable postseasons in recent memory as he posted a 1.98 GAA, .940 save percentage and four shutouts in 25 games. One might recall that Thomas was Boston's backup goalie during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and shortly thereafter underwent major hip surgery.
"It was not even knowing for sure whether you'd be able to get to anywhere near the level that I was the first time I won the Vezina (in 2009)," Thomas said. "I don't think it was retirement-serious at any point, but I didn't know if I was looking at spending the rest of my career as a highly-paid backup that was taking all the heat in the media and from the fans constantly."
Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry stepped up into the NHL's elite last season with a scintillating 50-goal, 98-point performance that lifted his team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and sent Perry to Las Vegas for the 2011 NHL Awards, where he took home the Hart Trophy.
Although it was the best season of his career from an individual standpoint, Perry had already experienced the highest of highs from a team standpoint on both the League and international levels: Anaheim won the Cup in 2007, his sophomore season, and he was a member of the Canadian Olympic team that won gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
During his stop through the League's offices in midtown Manhattan on Thursday as part of this year's Player Media Tour, the 26-year-old attempted to compare and contrast the emotions that go into playing for and winning a Stanley Cup versus a gold medal.
"It's similar, but the Olympics are a two-week tournament, where the Stanley Cup is you go through 82 games -- seven, eight months with the same guys -- and then you go through the playoffs," Perry said. "With the Stanley Cup, you're going through a lot more blood, sweat and tears and different things. In the Olympics you have to gel so quickly and become a team in a short period of time. I don't know if you can say one's better than the other or one sits higher than the other. I think they're pretty special, both of them."
Perry was a key contributor to both efforts, putting up six goals and 15 points in the Ducks' 2007 postseason run and scoring four times as a member of Team Canada, including the goal that gave the host nation a 2-0 lead in an eventual 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the gold-medal game.
"Especially playing in your home country, winning in front of your home country fans is pretty special," he said. "But on the other side, we won the Cup in front of our fans in Southern California, so that was kind of exciting as well."
NEWARK, N.J. -- Edmonton Oilers second-year forward Taylor Hall was excited to be a part of NHL Media Day at the Prudential Center on Thursday.
He was put through his on-ice responsibilities for the television cameras and provided promotional commentary for NBC and several other media outlets. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound left wing, who connected for 22 goals and 42 points in his rookie season, said he feels a lot more confident heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
"This is not a League where you can kind of ease yourself into it," Hall said. "It's very tough, and players are faster, stronger and bigger. But after a while, you start to lean on your teammates because they are a lot better than some of the teammates you've played with before (in junior). It was a learning curve -- but after a while I got used to it and felt very comfortable."
So what did he learn in his inaugural season?
"You learn how to prepare for games," he said. "The biggest thing I got used to was the speed of the game. It was hard at first, but after a while you get used to it and learn how other defenses play and systems. Once you get used to that, it was a lot easier."
While Hall is excited that the organization drafted center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, he wasn't about to offer advice to the future star and possible linemate.
"I don't know if I have a whole lot of advice for a player after my first year in the NHL, but he does seem like a poised young man and does seem like someone ready to jump into that situation," he said. "I'm pretty positive that if he shows he's ready to play at the NHL level during training camp and in exhibition games that he's going to stick. I'm hoping he could do that for our team, but overall it's really exciting that he'll one day be a part of our group."
It's no secret that the Nassau Coliseum, one of the NHL's oldest facilities, is not exactly a selling point when the New York Islanders are trying to recruit free agents and keep their young talent. But forward Michael Grabner says Long Island has a lot going for it.
"It is," Grabner said when asked if the Island was nicer than he had expected. "A lot of guys probably see the Coliseum, but once you get to know Long Island, it's pretty good. There's a lot of beaches. You're 40 minutes from New York if you want to go there. I love living out there, and I think people would enjoy it if they lived there for a while. There's a lot to do -- there's not just the area around the Coliseum."
Grabner, who led all rookies last season with 34 goals, will have plenty of opportunity to enjoy Long Island -- he signed a five-year contract with the Isles this summer.
Asked if a lot of players get their sole impression of Long Island from the 40-year-old Coliseum and the hotel across the parking lot where most visiting teams stay, he said, "That's exactly what a lot of people think. But you go 15 to 20 minutes and you've got some beautiful areas -- lot of beaches, lot of parks. It's great to live out there."
From the moment he found out he'd be facing John Tavares in a competition at the NHL Store Powered by Reebok, Michael Grabner knew he would be victorious.
The Calder Trophy finalist squeaked past his New York Islanders teammate Thursday afternoon in a skills competition that saw the pair attempt to sell T-shirts to consumers, as well as folding shirts and pressing their names and numbers on Isles' sweaters.
One thing Tavares learned after the competition, though -- Grabner had previous experience.
"It was a little rigged, but my first job was working in a hockey store … I was 14," the speedy Austrian winger said afterwards. "I was used to talking to customers and printing shirts and stuff like that. I'm one-up on Johnny to start the year. It's 1-0 and that's all that matters right now."
Not surprisingly, Tavares first earned his paycheck on the ice. He wasn't pleased in dropping the competition to Grabner, but he was humble in defeat.
"My first job was working for a goalie school," Tavares said. "It was definitely a lot easier than this. I think it was a little bit rigged, but I'll let Mike take this one."
When Doug Weight retired in May, it left the New York Islanders without a captain.
That vacancy is expected to be filled, with the most likely candidates being Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. But if John Tavares joins that mix, that's just fine the third-year pro who turns 21 this month.
"I'd love to be (captain)," Tavares told NHL.com Thursday morning. "I definitely understand maybe I am still too young and just need to worry about the game, but if it was presented to me, it definitely would be something I would talk about and make sure it's the right decision for the group and for myself as well. I'd love to be a leader of this team.
"Mark Streit and Kyle are great guys and are going to be highly recommended, for sure. But I still feel I'll be a big leader no matter what, and I'll still have a lot of responsibility in a lot of ways. Whatever way it goes, it's going to be a guy that definitely deserves it and will do a great job at it. If I get the opportunity, it would be a huge honor."
When it comes to skating, just call Michael Grabner "The Natural."
The New York Islanders forward won the Fastest Skater competition during the skills competition at All-Star Weekend in January and went on to lead all rookies with 34 goals, becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
He said Thursday that his skating skills just came naturally.
"I've never trained for it," he said. "I did a lot of sprints -- track and field -- when I was in school. I always practiced with older guys when I was in school when I was younger, and I tried to keep up with them. I wanted to be the fastest. That probably helped me.
"But I didn't do any specific training or have any skating coaches or anything. I guess I got lucky."
Grabner is one of just three Austrian-born players in the NHL (Thomas Vanek and Andreas Nodl are the others). Hockey isn't the big sport in his homeland, and Grabner may owe his career on ice to a fortunate accident of geography.
"We lived across the street from the rink," he said. "My mom signed me up when I was 5 because my friends and a lot of people from school were playing. That's how I got into (hockey). I liked it and started to play roller hockey in the summers. After that, I would spend five or six hours a day at the rink. I loved it."
The NHL season starts in less than 30 days, but Brad Richards might be even more excited for the start of the NFL season.
The newest New York Ranger was born in Prince Edward Island and played his professional hockey in Tampa and Dallas. Yet Richards has always been a fan of the Green Bay Packers, who will kick off the NFL season against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
But why the Packers?
"My dad was a big NFL fan, so I watched it a lot," Richards said. "When I started getting interested, I was probably 15 or 16, right when (Brett) Favre was winning MVPs. It was all him. But then I found out more about Packer tradition and Lambeau Field and I always just went with."
Even during his time in Dallas, home of the Cowboys, he never kept his love for Green Bay a secret.
"Oh no, " Richards said. "I was very open about all that."
After Zach Parise signed a one-year contract this summer, a lot of people started reading into it. Why wouldn't he sign a long-term deal? Does this mean he's angling to leave New Jersey at the end of the upcoming season?
On Thursday, Parise talked about the contract and said by no means did he sign the deal thinking it would be a one-and-done situation.
"We talked about both," Parise said of discussing short- and long-term deals. "Without getting into too much detail with respect to everyone involved, we came down to that and that made the most sense. We said it right after we signed it, that we were going to keep talking. It's not as if we're not going to talk until next June 30. We'll keep going and keep working on it."
Parise said despite the rumors that he wants to test free agency, he likes playing for and living in New Jersey and would like to stick around.
"I know people's initial reactions are, 'Oh, it's one year and get out of there.' But that's not how it went down, that's not how it worked out. We'll keep trying to figure it out."
Parise also talked about his commercial, in which he plays a police detective who's partnered with a pair of Easton hockey skates. During the ad, Parise appears to slide across the hood of a car, causing some to question why he'd do that when he was dealing with a knee injury.
"I had a stunt double for that," Parise said. "I took a lot of heat from people saying, 'You can't play hockey but you can slide across a hood?' That wasn't me. I literally just got my brace off four days before that. I could barely walk, so I wasn't in any condition to be doing that. That wasn't part of rehab."
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Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.