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Super Ovie Wins the Calder

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
VANCOUVER, B.C. - Whether it was his unique sense of style off the ice or his one-of-a-kind abilities on it, there was no denying the impression Alex Ovechkin made on the Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League in 2005-06.

Countless people saw these elements that were uniquely “Ovie” – as hard as it is to miss an all-red outfit, right down to the sneakers, it was virtually impossible to avoid the highlight of his sprawling, behind-the-back, from-the-ice goal in Phoenix. Each one of those witnesses can attest that Ovechkin can pull just about anything off, on or off the ice, an almost superheroic ability to simply will things to go his way, however unlikely.

Another validation of his powers came Thursday night in Vancouver, when Ovechkin was presented with the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the National Hockey League in 2005-06.

It was an award he professed his desire to win on his first day inWashington, D.C., way back in August. It was refreshing candor at the time from the Capitals’ fresh face, but largely dismissed. There was this other rookie, you see, a couple hundred miles away. Sidney Crosby was moving in with Mario Lemieux and expected to rapidly prove that he was as talented as his landlord, if not moreso. Ovechkin was, by and large, a Calder afterthought.

By voicing his intentions to win the award, Ovechkin was being candid – and expressing the goal that he would put all his effort behind. In the predictable world of hockey interviews, it caught people off guard, much as his skate-to-stick move with the puck would slow-footed defensemen. But the statement was rooted more in honesty than hubris – he never once contended that he should win the award, just that he wanted to. And when pressed about comparisons toCrosby, questions that would become increasingly repetitive over time, he’d just smile and say, “We’ll see what happens.” It was emblematic of a personality that reporters, fans and teammates would embrace.

Teammates quickly recognized Ovechkin’s superpowers on the ice as well.Olie Kolzigcalled him the most talented teammate he had ever played with after a September practice. Others – all professional athletes themselves, remember – spoke about him in tones normally reserved for Superman’s witnesses talking to Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane

“I consider myself very lucky to have had the best seat in the house,” said defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, a Vancouvernative who attended Thursday night’s Awards Show. “I was just watching some clips the other day, and I’m still shocked at some of the things he could do – even though I was there.”

Once the season began, Ovechkin had proven his abilities in the preseason; his chances for the Calder already seemed much less remote than when he first arrived.

But theCrosbyhype was undeterred. Ovechkin already had two goals in that opening night game when the NHL distributed audio of Crosby’s first assist to media outlets acrossNorth America. It took a friendly nudge for the league send out an Ovechkin highlight. ESPN the Magazine profiled Ovechkin as a talented player in a hockey outpost;Crosbywas featured on the publication’s cover as the new face of the NHL. AndCrosbywas named October’s NHL Rookie of the Month, a slight that, to Ovechkin fans, stung much more than it should have, given the minimal significance of the award.

Caps fans must admit, afterCrosby’s 103-point season, that much of his attention was deserved. It just seemed that Ovechkin was too often overlooked.

But as his season progressed, Ovie grabbed more of the hockey world’s consciousness. By December he claimed the league’s Rookie of the Month honor; in January he not only won that, but Offensive Player of the Month as well. He earned a four-page spread by Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber in January as well.

He was already a staple on highlight packages by the time he scored the most improbable of goals inPhoenixon Jan. 16. That feat propelled the recognition of his skills to new heights. Capitals attendance went up more than 2,000 fans per game after that goal; a month later he was showcasing his abilities at the Olympics and was one of three forwards named to that all-tournament team.

We were witnessing not just one of the best rookie seasons ever, but one of the best seasons. He accumulated 52 goals and 106 points, just the second rookie all-time and one of three players in the league this season to top 50 goals and 100 points.

While he wasn’t a finalist, Ovechkin began to gather Hart Trophy consideration – almost unheard of for someone on a non-playoff team. He was a finalist for the Lester B. Pearson Award, picked up Thursday night by Jaromir Jagr, which many players consider the most prestigious honor since it is voted on by peers. On a March visit to Washington Daniel Alfredsson, captain of the Ottawa Senators – himself one of the best players in the game – declared his intentions to cast his Pearson vote for Ovie.

Thursday night Ovechkin was also named to the postseason NHL First All-Star Team, the first Capitals forward ever so honored, and to the NHL All-Rookie Team. He was also introduced as EA Sports’ cover athlete on its NHL07 game. But it’s the Calder Trophy that will stick in fans’ minds in the years to come, even as other awards pile up for their tongue-wagging, glove-kissing superstar.

“I’m very happy,” said Ovechkin after being presented the award. “The NHL is the best hockey league and I’m happy for the opportunity to play in it. I’m thankful for the Washington Capitals organization, my teammates, my coaches and especially my family.”

Ovechkin then smiled for the cameras and took hold of the trophy, one which once seemed unattainable but now would feel out of place in any other pair of hands, as 124 of 129 Calder voters expressed with their first-place vote. Dressed in a traditional, very un-Ovie tuxedo, it’s now firmly in his grasp – an honor he coveted, not selfishly, but because any player should want to be the best.

By force of his own will, he was exactly that.
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