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The All-Star Experience

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals


Jan. 25 – 9 a.m. Dallas time
 
Alex speaks with reporters after the game
More media scrum
An early morning wake-up call Thursday in Dallas must have felt like it woke Alex Ovechkin from a wonderful dream.
 
After four days of fun and excitement around the NHL All-Star Game, it was time for Alex and YoungStars participant Mike Green to head back to D.C. Alex left as an All-Star veteran, with a goal in the game to boot, and a lot more luggage then he brought to Dallas.
 
In addition to gift bags and the like, Alex was carrying a pile of souvenirs of his experience that he had gathered Wednesday. Between a photo shoot and a washingtonpost.com online chat (CLICK HERE) – his only off-ice obligations of the day – Ovechkin hit the gift shop in the hotel lobby. It was filled with All-Star knick-knacks, and he loaded up.
 
Alex signing multiple All-Star items
Alex takes a quick pic of his fellow All-Stars as they leave the American Airline Center
Pucks, a clock, a clear plastic hockey stick, pennants and a goalie mask were among the items Alex bought. Several things made their way to the rink that afternoon, where the Eastern Conference All-Stars went through an assembly line of autographs. In a week filled with autograph requests, it was fitting that the players collect some of their own.
 
Some items, like the clear stick, will be keepsakes for Alex forever. Others were gifts, like the pennant he gave to Green after the game.
 
The game itself, of course, was the showcase event of the weekend. Alex took the ice with the rest of the Eastern Conference All-Stars to roars from the crowd. He and Sidney Crosby, the much-anticipated linemates, made some nice plays but never combined on a goal. When Alex scored, it came at the end of a shift on an assist from Daniel Briere, who had come on the ice to replace Crosby.
 
Between periods Alex and the other All-Stars changed jerseys, donning five in all during the course of the week (one of which he will get to keep). The All-Star Game is a made-for-TV affair, and cameras followed at all times. NHL Productions had a mic on Alex and cameras in the locker room between periods, alongside those from Versus and CBC.
 
Coming back to the ice at the end of the first period, Versus caught Alex for an interview. At the end, Chris Simpson offered him a bag of Lay’s potato chips to make up for the one stuck in the vending machine in his famous commercial. Alex popped a chip in his mouth as a bewildered Martin St. Louis looked on.
 
The hit-free affair seemed to be a little awkward for Alex. At one point in the first period he had a chance to line up a Western Conference star for a big hit, but – as is customary in this event – he held up. Other times he passed up open shots, perhaps shy about appearing to hog the puck around his new, temporary teammates.
 
He certainly made a positive impression in the room. Brendan Shanahan and Martin Brodeur – two All-Star vets – were among Alex’s favorite teammates. Both signed pucks for him to keep.
 
Along with the autographed items, Alex brought a couple of extra sticks back to D.C. Nicklas Lidstrom and Sheldon Souray are the latest to be added to Alex’s stick collection – perhaps showing his growing respect for the most talented defensemen in the game.
 
With all of that now stowed beneath the plane, Alex is in his seat next to his brother, one row in front of Green and his brother. All four are dozing peacefully, as the players need to rest up for a game that counts Friday night in Carolina. Upon landing at Dulles, they will have an hour and a half before catching another plane, this time with their teammates.
 
It’s back to reality for Washington’s All-Stars.

January 23 – 11 p.m. (Dallas time)

Alex at Habitat for Humanity
Alex signs autographs
Alex greets his many fans
It could be – just maybe – that expecting Alex Ovechkin to film a commercial, build a house and prove himself the fastest skater in the world was too much to ask for one day.

So it seemed Tuesday night, as Ovechkin, in the words of one national writer, “fizzled” in the NHL’s Superskills Competition. Certainly his skating time and shootout attempt weren’t what Ovechkin hoped for, but you wouldn’t know it by his smile afterwards. If anything, it was the ultimate reminder that All-Star Games aren’t about results – they are about atmosphere and experience, and Alex enjoyed lots of both in Dallas on Tuesday.

Picking up after our noon entry, Alex headed to a Habitat for Humanity construction site, where he picked up a hammer alongside teammate Mike Green and several other All-Stars to help a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Autograph seekers lined one side of the event, but the players kept their eyes on the task at hand. If the event’s higher purpose wasn’t enough to keep the group from being distracted by autograph hounds, there was this: just before getting in the car to go to the event, Green was approached in the hotel lobby by one fan who asked, “Mr. Crosby, could you sign this for me?”

After a little hard work, Alex and Green got a quick break. Then it was back to the rink, but instead of arriving at the back, where the Habitat event had taken place, they entered at the front, on a red carpet.

In a setting suited for a movie star, Ovechkin was glowing. He stopped to sign autographs and conduct interviews, snaking his way along the red carpet in a path that seemed never ending.

Once inside, the players had hours to get ready. As Green and the YoungStars took the ice, Ovechkin watched from the tunnel. Green gathered a pair of assists and a +2 rating in the Eastern Conference’s win before Ovechkin headed back down that tunnel, new blue visor affixed to his helmet, for Superskills.

The results didn’t reflect Ovechkin’s excitement for the evening. Mike Gartner’s scoring records may not stand a chance against Ovechkin, but he’s still the fastest skater in the NHL’s skills competition. Roberto Luongo still stands as the goaltender who gives Alex the most fits.

But, in Alex’s words, the night was “unbelievable.” Not because more was expected, but because the experience was incomparable. His All-Star experience rolls on.

January 23 – Noon (Dallas time)
Alex got up this morning and met a crew from NHL Productions to shoot a commercial. These are the same folks who brought you the Lay’s potato chip spot, and this one has a similar sense of humor. In it, Ovechkin orders a ton of room service for a rival’s room. In the interest of maintaining surprise, we won’t reveal that rival’s name – but you may find him in the future in either Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

A funny spot, all in all, and Alex did some nice ad libbing along the way (“No, not diet – six regular Pepsis”).

Meanwhile, Mike Green met the media for the first time in his visit to Dallas. Green arrived yesterday evening, and tonight, just a week after taking that puck of the foot in Atlanta, he’ll suit up for the Eastern Conference in the 2007 NHL YoungStars Game. The fast-paced, four-on-four format to tonight’s game should fit perfectly with Green’s strengths: skating and puck movement.

He spoke to a handful of reporters at a brunch with the rest of the YoungStars, then returned to the hotel. In a little over an hour, Mike and Alex will join a couple of other All-Stars at a Habitat for Humanity project outside the rink. Then it’s time for the evening’s festivities.

January 22, 2007 – 11 p.m. Dallas time
Alex and Sidney Crosby
Alex shows off his new shield
Alex interviews some more
Monday afternoon was a period of discovery for Alex Ovechkin. He learned what it was really like to pull on an All-Star sweater. He found out what events he would take part in Tuesday night in the Skills Competition. And he discovered what it’s like to answer Sidney Crosby questions while sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Sid the Kid.
 
The afternoon began with media availability at the rink, and the NHL wisely put its two biggest names at center stage. Before the rest of the Eastern Conference All-Stars entered the Dallas Mavericks practice court for one-on-one interviews, Ovechkin and Crosby sat at a table and held a 15-minute press conference.
 
The league had to see it as the perfect opportunity to showcase the pair, and the first chance for the media – en masse – to question them together. They have appeared together on a CBC interview at the Awards Show and for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, but this was the first time they were on a stage like this.
 
In many ways, it demonstrated their personalities perfectly. Both flashed what have become trademark smiles. Crosby’s answers were polished, predictable and yet still interesting. Ovechkin’s answers were quicker, choppier, and usually funnier – swinging radically between self-deprecating and boastful, but always drawing smiles in return.
 
From the stage the two headed to the back of the room, where they perched beneath their All-Star sweaters for one-on-one interviews alongside their teammates. In addition to the inevitable Crosby questions, Ovechkin was asked a lot about playing alongside Daniel Briere and Martin Brodeur – two perceived enemies of the Caps’ star.
 
After about a half hour of interviews, Ovechkin retired to the locker room. There, in a stall next to Crosby’s, he checked out his blue visor, talked it over with Brodeur (he approves) and started to feel at home as an All-Star. Gordie Howe stopped by for a photo and countless sweaters and sticks made their way around the room for autographs. One, a CCM Vector, now sits in Ovechkin’s stall, waiting to return to Washington.
 
The practice that followed was uneventful but ran long. Nevertheless, Ovechkin was one of the last players off the ice (only Briere, who Ovechkin greeted with a smile and a handshake, was later). Afterwards, as American Airlines Center grew quiet, one could peek in to the Eastern Conference dressing room and see 20 of the best hockey players in the world, relaxing and joking over a drink.
 
In another 45 minutes, Ovechkin would be in Nobu – a sushi place in the players’ hotel that could practically double as NHLPA headquarters this weekend. But it was back in that locker room, not over California rolls, that you had to think Ovechkin made his profound discovery of the day – without question, the All-Star Game was a place where he belonged.

January 22, 2007 – 2:45 p.m. (Dallas time)
There’s some rare downtime right now in Alex Ovechkin’s schedule – a full hour between the Rbk/NHL press conference and Alex’s bus to the arena for more interviews and practice.
 
Nearly every minute of the next few days is booked on Alex’s calendar. With a short break like this, he’ll head to his room and relax. The hotel television has a channel devoted to a compilation of hockey shows put together by NHL Productions. It’s great stuff for downtime like this, watching a recap of Erik Johnson’s experience at the 2006 draft or Terry Crisp’s memories of winning the Cup as Calgary’s coach.
 
Alex was busy at the press conference, where the new Rbk Uniform System was unveiled. NHL and Reebok officials extolled the virtues of the new system and showed a video (now available on NHL.com). Alex was joined on stage by Jason Blake and Niklas Lidstrom for questions about the jerseys from moderator Pierre McGuire, who asked Alex if it was important that they not only performed well, but looked good, too.
 
“Of course,” Alex responded.
 
The press conference provided Alex’s first meeting of the week with Sidney Crosby, who took the stage with Marty Turco right after Alex’s group. Sidney arrived just a few minutes late and sat down two seats from Alex – they leaned over and shared a hearty handshake and a smile as a greeting. The TV cameras may not have caught it, but it was a picture every bit as fitting for the new look of the NHL as what was taking place on stage.
 
After the formal press conference, Alex answered about 15 minutes worth of questions from the media. In another hour here, he’ll do more of the same. It’s quickly become evident, if you didn’t know it already, that this week will be the Alex and Sidney show. Stay tuned to this station for more.

January 21, 2007

Alex Ovechkin’s All-Star experience barely got off the ground, thanks to about an inch of snow on the ground in Northern Virginia. The flights were fine – it’s just that the dusting left the local roads so clogged, it was difficult to get to Dulles in time for the flight.

Nevertheless, the Washington Capitals star left wing made it with time to spare, and American Airlines delivered him, sitting alongside his brother, Mikhail, safely.

It seemed that no one on Ovechkin’s flight recognized him, despite the now-trademark ripped jeans from Dolce Gabbana. The same can’t be said for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, which was teeming with autograph seekers upon Ovechkin’s arrival.

Alex signed happily and picked up his gear. He had a bag of equipment and eight sticks. The sticks will surely be traded for eight, or more, new ones that will accompany him on the ride home. For now, the gear and sticks were whisked to American Airlines Center.

Ovechkin swapped Olie Kolzig stories with former Caps scout Barry Trotz – now Nashville’s head coach and the assistant for the Western Conference All-Stars – before being taken to his hotel.

The scene there made the autograph seekers at the airport seem tame. There weren’t more seekers in the lobby – rather, the NHL had a maze of jerseys, sticks, programs, helmets and more for Ovechkin to sign. At the end of the maze he got tickets for his brother and friends for the week’s activities. After a 20-minute interview with NHL Productions, the day’s work was done – just the beginning of Alex’s All-Star experience.

“I’ve been looking forward to this and I feel great right now,” Ovechkin said. “I’m looking forward to getting to the locker room and seeing all the guys. It is going to be a great atmosphere tomorrow. Should be lots of fun.”

Among tomorrow’s highlights will be the assignments for the Skills Competition, to be held Tuesday night. Ovechkin hasn’t heard about the events he will be assigned, but – typically – he has something in mind.

“I want to try everything,” he said, “and I want to win everything.”
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