WASHINGTON - Red alert! A young Russian has free reign of the nation's capital!
"Today is a big day," said Alex Ovechkin, standing on the front steps of city hall. "I have a key for the city. And I'm the president this day in the city, so everybody have fun - and no speed limit."
The crowd, of course, went wild. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty laughed and clapped and didn't mind a bit, even though the hundreds of fans chanting "M-V-P!" would have been more than ready to elect the Washington Capitals star to any office of his choosing on the spot.
Ovechkin was feted like royalty in Washington on Friday, honoured as the city's first MVP in a major North American professional sports league since Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins in 1983. The 22-year-old left wing won both the Hart Trophy (MVP) and the Lester B. Pearson Award (most outstanding player) at the NHL's annual awards show in Toronto on Thursday night.
That was in addition to the two pieces of hardware he'd already claimed this season: the Rocket Richard for a league-best 65 goals and the Art Ross for a league-high 112 points. Ovechkin is the first player to win the Hart, Pearson, Richard and Ross in the same year, and all four trophies made for an impressive display at the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue - two blocks from the White House - as the mayor presented yet another souvenir, the key to the city.
"Who said Washington wasn't a hockey town?" Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said.
By his standards, Ovechkin dressed very conservatively for his meeting with the mayor and the District of Columbia Council. Although he looked as if he hadn't shaved in days, he wore a collared shirt and pinstripe trousers - not a hint of the bright-coloured, outlandish fashion statements that prompted him to launch his own clothing line this week. The more casual celebrations were expected later in the evening at a Leonsis-hosted exclusive party at a downtown restaurant.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray praised Ovechkin as a "man who has raised hockey to a new level in the District of Columbia." The Capitals' improving fortunes this year - including their first playoff berth since 2003 - have energized their fan base in the halls of power, although Fenty did have to be corrected by Ovechkin himself when the mayor mispronounced the name of the Richard trophy.
The fans, many of them clad in Capitals red, also let out a cheer of "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuce" at the mention of Washington's Bruce Boudreau, who won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach. Boudreau was hired on U.S. Thanksgiving, when the Capitals were mired in last place.
"Last night, we gained a lot of respect around the league," Leonsis said. "What it says is that the team has come of age, and the expectations for us are higher. We want to trade all the individual glory for a Stanley Cup."
Ovechkin, the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Mario Lemieux in 1996, earned 128 of 134 first-place Hart votes from the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He joins Sergei Fedorov (1994) as the only Russian-born players to win the Hart and Pearson.
"I love that his first order of business was to say party all night and no speed limits," Leonsis said.