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Fedorov set course for Ovechkin to excel on big stage

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

TORONTO -- Sergei Fedorov saw the picture pop up on the television screen and he felt a twinge of honor and pride.

There was a young Alex Ovechkin, no more than 8 or 9 years old, if that, wearing a black and white shirt that had Fedorov's name on it, his number, 91, and Detroit written in big, black, block letters.

"I was so surprised," Fedorov said. "It kind of moved me."

Fedorov and Ovechkin played together with the Washington Capitals for 70 games over parts of two seasons (2008-09), passing the time by passing around stories like they were the puck, growing close, developing a friendship. But Fedorov said never once did Ovechkin bring up the fact that when he was a kid, he was his guy, his idol, the name he wore on his clothes.

"He never told me about that particular part of his life, when he was wearing something like that," Fedorov said. "We were very close, obviously, for a couple years in Washington and that was amazing. I hope he saw a lot of good things."

He did. Everyone did. Fedorov was dynamic, electrifying, a rock star turned honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, an achievement that became official Monday.

Ovechkin is on his way to the Hall of Fame in part because he's still reaping the benefits of what he saw from his idol all those years ago. On Tuesday in Detroit, Sergei Fedorov Night at Joe Louis Arena, he has a chance to show him in person the tangible proof.

Ovechkin's next goal will break Fedorov's record for the most goals scored by a Russian player in the NHL. They are tied with 483. Fedorov scored that many in 1,248 games; Ovechkin has done in it 772 games.

"I think he can score double in no time, and I wish him that," Fedorov said.

As much as Fedorov takes pride in finally knowing that Ovechkin looked up to him, he should take pride in paving the way for a player like Ovechkin to dominate this grand stage of hockey with similar flair, showmanship and marketability as himself.

Fedorov did it with his speed, his smile and his white Nike skates. He was in commercials, on cereal boxes, a star. He was a Russian player with endorsement deals not long after coming to North America as a defected former citizen of the Soviet Union. He was a new breed.

"He was a second-wave generation of Russian players who come into the National Hockey League, after us," said Hockey Hall of Fame member Igor Larionov.

Larionov came to the NHL one season before Fedorov. He was very much from the old school Soviet regime. He was 28 when he got to the NHL, but played for almost a decade on the Soviet national team.

"Sergei was a new generation and he started building the bridge together between North America and the old Soviet mentality," Larionov said. "When we played as the red machine, everybody thought we were boring and we scored without any emotions. But Sergei was the flashy guy, the white skates, scoring beautiful goals and he was fun to watch. That's the players you want to come every night to watch play."

Ovechkin is that player now. He's marketable, a star, a dominating personality and powerful presence on and off the ice.

Russian players weren't like that before Fedorov and Pavel Bure came on the scene in the early 1990s. They gave players like Ovechkin a chance to have role models, idols playing in the NHL and the clearance to be themselves once they got there too.

It's not surprising to Larionov that Ovechkin has been that since his rookie season, 2005-06.

"It's keeping the Russian game alive, keeping the Russian style of hockey alive," Larionov said. "That's what Ovi has been doing consistently. He's a different style of player from Sergei, but every player is different. It's nice to see he's on top of the game, Ovechkin, and playing such tremendous hockey every season.

"It's a nice feeling to see a guy like that carry that in every season, every game."

For Fedorov, it was also nice to see a throwback picture of Ovechkin wearing his name and his number. He knew during his playing days that he was paving the way for future Russian players like Ovechkin, but until Saturday night, he didn't know the impact he had on him.

"We talked a lot and shared a lot of stories," Fedorov said, "but not that one for some reason."

A picture told him instead.

"It really moved me," Fedorov said.

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