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Outdoor game reminds Ovechkin of his Moscow youth

by Dan Rosen
Just like Canadian kids who took advantage of the cold winters, a young Alex Ovechkin used to find patches of ice in Moscow for games of shinny with his buddies.

"Yeah, I played lots of outdoor games and it was very fun," Ovechkin told "I was on little lakes and I even played in a soccer stadium. I played everywhere I could, but it was a long time ago."

Ovechkin will feel like a kid again come New Year's Day when he leads the Capitals onto the temporary ice sheet the NHL will build atop the gridiron at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"I played lots of outdoor games and it was very fun. I was on little lakes and I even played in a soccer stadium. I played everywhere I could, but it was a long time ago." -- Alex Ovechkin

The roar of the crowd will excite him. The rivalry between the Caps and Penguins will turn up the hype and ratchet up his intensity. And the HBO Sports series that will document both teams in the lead-up to the main event, "24/7 Penguins/Capitals Road to the Winter Classic," will give Ovechkin a chance to show fans who he really is and what he's really all about.

But the moments Ovechkin thinks of when he daydreams about the Winter Classic involve his family and his friends. The event will be as much for them as it is for him, Ovechkin said.

"I don't know what the spectacle will be like, what I'm going to wait for, but my family is going to be over there, my friends are going to be there and walking out of the tunnel with them to show them that hockey rink will be cool," Ovechkin said. "After that they're going to sit I don't know where and drink coffee and I'm going to play. It's going to be fun. It's going to be like I'm a little kid again, but your face is going to be on TV."

Ovechkin has played outdoor hockey in a huge venue before, except there weren't 65,000 screaming, frigid fans serving as a backdrop. He would play pick-up games with his friends at Dynamo Moscow's soccer stadium.

"It was for everybody, just the ice was there and we put bags as nets and we played hockey," he said. "It was a big stadium. In Dynamo, when I played hockey, we had a hockey rink and the soccer stadium was the second rink. When there was snow they put water over it and it froze over so we could play."

Ovechkin, of course, recalls "scoring lots of goals."

"It's your little kid time," he said. "There was lots of snow and it wasn't Zambonied. We just tried to clear the ice however we could, with sticks or whatever."

He said outdoor hockey is not all that popular in Moscow today.

"People are playing, but in Moscow we don't have lots of places to play and that's probably the most difficult thing for our kids," Ovechkin said. "There are not a lot of areas, but we have different regular hockey rinks."

As for the Winter Classic, Ovechkin said he wasn't able to see any of the three previous games live due to his own schedule, but he's watched highlights and particularly remembers when in the 2009 game Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook sent Detroit forward Dan Cleary over the boards and into the Chicago bench.

"I liked the hits in those games," he said. "That Seabrook hit on Cleary, it was pretty cool."

He won't predict anything for the 2011 installment of the Winter Classic other than excitement.

"Every time when people are going to think about Pittsburgh and Washington playing outdoor hockey, it's going to be sick," Ovechkin said. "It's new for us and it's going to be great for both teams, and for the fans, especially."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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