MOSCOW—May 6, 2007— Russian left wing Alex Ovechkin was ejected in the first period of Sunday’s qualifying round game against Switzerland. Ovechkin was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. He was later suspended for one game, and will miss Monday night's game against Sweden. The call came at 8:42 of the first period, eight seconds after Ovechkin exited the penalty box for serving a roughing minor.
Ovechkin began the game skating on the left side of a line with Washington center prospect Ivan Nepryayev. That line’s second shift on the ice was a particularly active one for Ovechkin. It started when Russian defenseman Alexey Emelin tried to hit Ovechkin with a long home run pass up the middle, a bid that was broken up by the stick of a Swiss defender.
Later in the shift Ovechkin went into the corner and won a puck battle, and he also issued a couple bodychecks in the offensive zone. At the end of his shift, he got tangled up with Switzerland’s Paul di Pietro. di Pietro was sent off for roughing, and Ovechkin went to the box at the same time, to serve a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Shortly after serving that sentence, Ovechkin made a beeline for Swiss forward Valentin Wirz and checked him from behind. Wirz lost his helmet in the collision and went down, stunned. The game officials took Ovechkin to the penalty box while Wirz’s teammates ministered to him.
Initially, a two-minute minor was put up on the scoreboard, and it appeared Ovechkin would also receive a 10-minute misconduct because Ilya Kovalchuk was in the box alongside him. But after a lengthy deliberation of more than five minutes, Ovechkin was escorted to the locker room and the penalty announced to an unhappy capacity crowd here.
Monday's game between Russia and Sweden will determine the top seed for the playoff round that begins here on Wednesday. Currently, Russia and Sweden are both tied atop the Group E standings with 12 points each.
On our way into the rink here for today’s game, we encountered former Capitals center Andrei Nikolishin, accompanied by his son Alexander. Niko was very pleasant and took a few minutes to talk with us. He mentioned how he thought Ovechkin had struggled in the tournament to date, and we inquired as to why.
"It’s hard getting used to the big ice surface here," said Nikolishin. "You have to be patient. You have to draw people to you and make things happen."
Nikolishin added that he believes it is harder to go from the NHL to international ice than vice versa, an opinion that is not shared by all players.
The veteran pivot told us that he played the past season in St. Petersburg, and that he was hoping to hook on with an NHL team for the 2006-07 season. From what we remember of him during his days in the league, and judging by how firm and fit he looked here today, he’d certainly be a potential asset to several teams in the face-off circle, as a penalty killer and a checking center.
Here’s hoping we see No. 13 back in the States come October.
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