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Competitors coy about Breakaway Challenge

Friday, 01.23.2009 / 6:59 PM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

MONTREAL -- Alex Kovalev has laid down the challenge to his fellow Russian superstar.

"I'm not sure who is going to win (the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge)," the Montreal Canadiens sniper told NHL.com, "but the one thing I will tell you is whatever (Alex) Ovechkin did last year, it's not going to make him win this year."

Ever so modestly, Ovechkin told NHL.com the same thing.

"I'm terrible," No. 8 said with a big, gap-toothed smile. "It's true."

Ovechkin, in fact, predicts that he'll finish last in the highlight event of Saturday's 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills. He's picking Kovalev, the fan favorite, because "he's got tremendous hands." He said Patrick Kane will finish second, Ryan Getzlaf third and Martin St. Louis fourth — and that he'll pull up the rear.

"That's what he's going to do, I guess, huh?" Kovalev responded. "He does that on purpose. He's just trying to get the pressure off himself, that's why."

Getzlaf, who stunningly called Ovechkin's spin-o-rama move from last year, the one that was good enough to win him the title as NHL Breakaway King, overrated, believes it's going to be St. Louis, the newest entrant into the Challenge.

"He's got a lot of little moves that he can do and I think it's because he's little," Getzlaf told NHL.com. "I'm going to give it a shot. Obviously I'm going to try to win it."

Kane believes it's going to be Getzlaf, saying, "Ovechkin can pull it off, too, but I don't think so."

St. Louis, who is taking Sidney Crosby's place, didn't arrive in Montreal in time for Friday's media availability, so we'll have to wait for his prediction until Saturday morning.

Nobody was picking themselves, but you can bet every one of the five entrants is hoping he gets enough votes to call himself the 2009 Breakaway King. The bragging rights would be like gold.

"I didn't want to do fastest skater or hardest shot. I always loved the breakaway," Kane told NHL.com. "I hope I win. I'd love to win the competition."

Outside of Kovalev, the challengers were too cool during Friday's media session to talk any trash. All that should change Saturday morning.

"I can't," Getzlaf said when asked why he isn't talking any trash now. "I've got to do it tomorrow."

"There is going to be more (trash talk) in the locker room," Kovalev said. "Some of the stuff you're not going to hear."

They all have some tricks up their sleeves.

Ovechkin said his is an old move, one he tried during last year's competition. Of course, nobody would recall it because the only one that mattered was his 360, lift-the-puck, baseball-swing move. He missed, but his creativity banked him the title.

"He's got to get knocked off this year. That's the whole idea of it," Getzlaf said. "If he pulls out a similar move, we've got to do something better. I think this year we're going to see if we can score on a few of them."

Getzlaf doesn't have anything in particular planned. He instead said he'll just play with the puck a little bit and see what he can come up with.

"I've thought about a few things, but I haven't really worked on anything," he said. "I play with the puck all the time so it's kind of just a matter of how it feels out there and doing things I feel comfortable with it. You have to try a whole bunch of stuff."

According to Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, Kane has been practicing a move in which he finds a way to hide the puck in his jersey.

"I have a couple of tricks that I'm going to try," Kane said.

"He's taken a lot of time (in practicing). I give him a lot of credit for that," Campbell added. "He wants to do some crazy things. He wants to show off."

Kovalev also said there was nothing in particular that he has planned and he has not practiced anything. However, Montreal goalie Carey Price told NHL.com Kovalev is not being totally honest.

"He was doing something like putting the puck between his feet and then kicking it up," Price said. "I don't really know what he's got going on, but it's going to be something absurd I'm sure."

 
 
"It's exciting because you know you are doing it for the fans and you can have fun, but at the same time you think about not embarrassing yourself too much," Kovalev said. "When they told me I had a minute in the zone to do whatever I want, I said, 'I'm not doing anything for one minute. If I have 10 seconds, I'll do it in 10 seconds.'"

Judging by how the Montreal Canadiens' fans came out to vote four of their favorites into the All-Star Game as starters for the Eastern Conference, Kovalev is understandably the odds-on favorite to be their choice as the winner.

However, he doesn't want it to be like that.

"Somebody said to me, 'You're going to do this, this and that and you can forget about it because you're going to take the trophy anyway,'" he said. "I don't like that idea. I know I'm playing in front of my home crowd, but I like the fair competition."

Perhaps Ovechkin will be right and Kovalev will win it with either a sick move or just from fan appeal. Or perhaps he's also just trying to lie in the weeds, trying to play the role of the underdog.

"Maybe," Ovechkin said with a smile. "Maybe."

No matter the case, there are five All-Stars who all want the same title. They may have been cool about it Friday, but this isn't just about having fun. This is about bragging rights, about ownership.

"There is a lot of hype, eh?" Getzlaf said. "I'm getting a little nervous."

Shouldn't he be?

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com