As Alex Ovechkin
stood in front of a smattering of reporters at an awards luncheon prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, he had sweat dripping off his brow and a funny feeling in his stomach.
Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals
' Russian-born star, had to give a speech to accept both the Rocket Richard Trophy and the Art Ross
Trophy. He looked like he would rather have been skating the gauntlet through a bunch of Zdeno Charas.
"Of course I'm nervous," Ovechkin told NHL.com in his charismatic, but flawed, English following the May 28 luncheon in Pittsburgh. "I'm getting older and I'm getting more experience, but I'm still nervous and sweating a little."
If that’s the case, he may need to take a towel to the Elgin Theater stage this week at the NHL Awards Show.
Ovechkin is the favorite to take home the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's 2007-08 MVP, which means he’ll have to give another acceptance speech -- this time in front of a captivated audience in an auditorium filled to capacity.
"Of course I want to win," Ovechkin said. "I want to win everything. I want to win team Cups, individual Cups. I think all players want it. I want it, too."
To win everything, all Ovechkin has to do is continue to shred the opposition the way he did this season. He pounded home 65 goals and ended up with 112 points, both League highs, in leading the Capitals from worst to first in the Southeast Division for their first playoff berth since 2003 and first division title since 2001.
The Capitals took the Philadelphia Flyers
to the brink, but lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in overtime.
Although Ovechkin was accepting awards at the Stanley Cup Final while Sidney Crosby
was playing in it, that didn’t temper his enthusiasm about his third NHL season. He turned the Capitals into the NHL's "it" team for a while and has made Washington an attractive destination for free agents.
"Yes, it was. Absolutely," Ovechkin said when asked if 2007-08 was a successful season despite the disappointing ending. “It was a huge step for me and for my teammates. Especially since we were the last place team and at the end of the year we won the division. It was really a good experience for us. In the Playoffs, we just couldn’t win, but I hope next year will be better."
There's no reason to think it won't be.
Not only do the Capitals have Ovechkin, the NHL's most dynamic player, they ripped off their magical run to the division title without the services of veteran forwards Chris Clark
and Michael Nylander
, each of whom missed more than half the season with injuries.
Ovechkin wonders what would have happened if those guys were in the lineup at least for the Playoffs.
"Clarkie didn't play a lot and Nyles didn't play for about half the season," Ovechkin said. "If we had those guys, maybe we play in the Stanley Cup Final."
Instead, Ovechkin admitted during the Final that he wouldn't have minded being in Crosby's skates. Ovechkin beat out Crosby for the Calder Trophy in 2006, but Crosby got to the Stanley Cup Final first.
"I'm a little jealous, but he's a great player and they have a great team," Ovechkin said. "If you see when he was first in the Playoffs, he lost first round 4-1 (to Ottawa in 2006-07), and now he's in the Final. I hope next year we'll be on the same page."
Ovechkin believes he took a step toward matching Crosby last month. Instead of going straight into wait-until-next-year mode, he went to the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Canada and helped the Russians win their first gold medal in 15 years.
"It was my fifth World Championships and I had only two bronze medals," Ovechkin said. "So it's huge for me and my country."
The experience of success in a pressure-packed tournament isn't lost on No. 8.
It was a good year, but it was not my best year, When I win the Stanley Cup, I say it's my best year. Soon, probably. - Alexander Ovechkin
"It’s like a playoffs. If you lose one game you are done. You just go home," Ovechkin said of the World Championships. “This is a lesson. You learn how to win the game in a tight series. If you see the team like Canada, they have very good players and lots of players playing in the NHL. Next year I will play against these guys in the NHL and I know I beat them."
For now, though, he just needs to brush up on those public-speaking skills, because although Ovechkin loves his talent, his fame and his fans, he's still a bit uncomfortable speaking about all of it in front of a large audience.
The great ones do their best talking on the ice anyway.
"It was a good year, but it was not my best year," Ovechkin said. "When I win the Stanley Cup, I say it's my best year. Soon, probably."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.