In his television commercials for Mr. Big candy bars, Alexander Ovechkin tells us that “to be a big deal like me, you have to make the impossible possible.” In another, it’s “to make bad things into good things.”
You can sell a great deal with a face like Ovechkin’s, not to mention his sense of self and ability to deliver a deadpan, slightly odd line. But these have not been smooth times for Ovechkin, a few months removed from a season of diminished returns; unable to fill a void created by Sidney Crosby’s enforced absence. Admit it: you long for the days of the great Sid vs. Ovie debate and if ever the NHL needed it – well, you know.
But there was a weariness to Ovechkin on Friday, as the NHL’s Player Tour continued through its midtown offices. For two days, the game’s best and in many cases its youngest are presented to the national media in New York for one-on-one sessions, and in Ovechkin’s case it comes painfully close on the heels of the crash of the chartered jet carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team of the Continental Hockey League.
And while one of Ovechkin’s countrymen, the Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk, poignantly suggested later in the day that the crash combined with a July tourist boating accident on the Volga River that claimed more than 100 lives means “a big snowball is coming in our country … everything’s old … people ask: ‘Why are we saving money, not spending …’ ” Ovechkin seemed distressed by the criticisms of Russia’s infrastructure, and the series of travel horror stories that have come out in recent days.
“I lost a lot of friends this summer,” Ovechkin said quietly. “I had a lot of situations this summer. This … this was just one of them. Anything can happen in this world. It just happens that those were friends, who do the same job I do. It’s a huge tragedy and loss but … you never know when and you never know how.”
Ovechkin could not have been clearer: seldom has he looked forward to returning to the ice as on the eve of this particular Washington Capitals training camp. “I always play hard,” he said, “but this year … I think I need to play double hard.”
He is, after all, playing for two. The Capitals and Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins were featured in a critically acclaimed HBO 24/7 documentary leading up to the Winter Classic outdoor game in which David Steckel’s hit on Crosby planted the seeds of a season-ending concussion. This season, the cameras will be turned on the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. While the NHL contemplates the perils of a steady diet of Rangers coach John Tortorella and cameras and microphones in 2011-12 and gives thanks for cable TV, remember that among the revelatory aspects of last season’s HBO series was that Sid The Kid had a personality, that while he wasn’t a lampshade-on-the-head kind of guy, there was some texture and, truthfully, the Sid side gained some converts out of the documentary at the expense of the Ovie side.
For Ovechkin, it was almost an out-of-body experience. “I saw how I looked on television,” he said, a quick smile returning. “I’d seen highlights before, but this was different. You see yourself driving a car. I’d never seen me drive a car before. I’d see [himself]walking, and think: ‘Wow, I walk bad. I need to change that’ So, it was fun … but I learned about myself, too.”
In his commercials, Ovechkin turns a skateboard into a piano. He draws a door in the sky to help two kids recover a lost football. “I get your pigskin,” he says. There is whimsy all around, but the summer’s events have shown him he really can’t make all the bad things good.