It’s Stanley Cup playoff time, which means, if all follows form, you’re going to hear a whole lot about Ovie over the next couple of months.
OK, who’s Ovie? Well, if we must be formal about it, he’s Alex Ovechkin, who might soon become the first player to win the NHL most valuable player award three straight times since Wayne Gretzky won the last of a mind-boggling eight in a row in 1987, two years after Ovechkin was born.
But there isn’t much about Ovie that’s formal or traditional or, come to think of it, much like anyone who has preceded him in the NHL.
Ovechkin, the 24-year-old left winger for the Washington Capitals, the top team in the NHL this season, shoots more than anyone, scores more than most, dishes out huge hits and fixes a tinted visor to his helmet that prevents opposing goalies from seeing just what kind of no good his baby blues are conjuring around their net.
As Caps President Dick Patrick said not long after Ovie’s 2005 arrival in D.C., “We’ve never seen anything like Alex.”
Well, sports fans have all seen the amazing Ovie highlights. The great speed. The lightning-quick release. The crazed man-child celebrations that follow his goals, the Russian racing into a corner of the rink, leaping and bodyslamming the glass above the boards with his 230 pounds as if trying to shatter some Star Trek force field.
In the interest of those who might want to know a little bit more about that dazzling, shaggy-haired winger with the No. 8 on his back -- like, say, who makes those chewed-up denim jeans he obviously plucked from a Goodwill box? -- we bring you an eight-point off-the-cuff Ovie primer:
Let’s start with the jeans and the rest of Ovie’s avant garde wardrobe. “Casual wear,” as one of his good pals in Washington calls it, “and most of it is pretty ugly.” He prefers the Dolce&Gabbana label.
Ex-teammate Dainius Zubrus once noted that he prefers jeans that leave his “butt hanging out.” Not cheap jeans, either. “But he should be paying half price,” said Zubrus, “and he’s paying five times more than he should be.”
Apprised that then-Caps teammate Olaf Kolzig said his teammates wished Ovie would “tone down” his wardrobe a little, he shot back, “Maybe they should work on their clothes.”
To Ovie, Levi is definitely a four-letter word.
Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun described Ovie’s jeans as “the most expensive shredded denim in human history ... You’ve seen better dressed rodeo clowns.”
2. The car
He loves his car, which these days is a two-door Mercedes from the legendary car company’s “Black” series. His ride retails for more than a quarter-million dollars and reportedly tops out around 240 mph.
“Yeah, a lot of car for this area,” said Nate Ewell, the club’s senior director of media relations. Ovie paid thousands extra for a customized black matte finish that lends a Batmobile air to it.
In the summer of ’08, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty presented him with the key to the city. Yes, the Cold War is a distant memory now. A smiling Ovie immediately declared himself the city’s “president” and said there would be no speeding tickets issued that day. Why? “Because,” said Ovie, “there is no speed limit.”
3. His parents
His mother, Tatiana, helped lead Russia to two Olympic gold medals (1976, ’80) in basketball.
Mrs. Ovie, a little less showy than her famous son, keeps the medals in her garage in Moscow. She wore No. 8 in her playing days, and that’s why Ovie wears it today.
His father, Mikhail, played professional soccer in Russia.
“When he was about 4 years old,” Mikhail once recalled in a USA Today story, “the first time he saw hockey on TV, his jaw just dropped and he froze. That was the only thing he wanted to watch.”
Ovie has an older brother, Mikhail, who lives with him in his rather ordinary home in Arlington, Va. Mom and dad live there, too, when they aren’t in Russia. Another older brother, Sergei, died in a car crash in 2000. When an 8-year-old Ovie temporarily left hockey behind, because his mom and dad were tired of the constant back and forth to rinks that wears down many parents, it was Sergei who saw to it that his little brother always made it to games and practices on time.
Not only does he refuse to let anyone pay his way — other than to accept the occasional cup of coffee, maybe — he routinely reaches into his pocket when encountering homeless people on the street.
“Every time,” teammate Nicklas Backstrom recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “He doesn’t like to talk about the good stories.”
As part of a recent Caps season-ticket promotion, Ovie autographed 1,000 posters. As a token of appreciation, each of the Caps who signed was offered a $500 gift card to a well-known steakhouse. Ovie repeatedly declined to take the gift, noting it wasn’t necessary, and ultimately relented by taking it and handing it to an office secretary. He likes steak, especially filet mignon, but his No. 1 culinary choice is sushi.
5. Stick collection
He has a huge collection of hockey sticks, one that he adds to religiously, and he acquires them from other NHLers. Ovie’s lumberyard recently added models from Paul Kariya, Chris Drury and Jarome Iginla.
“He must have hundreds and hundreds of them,” Ewell said. “He’s just got this thing for equipment. He’s always seeking guys out for their sticks, swapping one of his for theirs, that kind of thing. He’ll come home from a road trip with a half-dozen different names that he picked up along the way.’’
Friends and teammates say Ovie is almost like a little kid with his gear — sticks, gloves, shoulder pads, etc. CCM produces custom shoulder pads just for him, stamped with his No. 8 and an image of the iconic dome in Moscow’s Red Square. He sometimes writes the number 32, his number when playing for Moscow Dynamo in the Russian Super League, on the shoulder pads. He also likes to draw smiley faces on his sticks — the same sticks that bring tears to goalies’ eyes.
6. ‘Who’s my girlfriend?’
OK, we all know that Ovie and Sidney Crosby, his chief rival for the league’s brightest spotlight, aren’t exactly kissin’ cousins.
But Ovie isn’t short of smooching partners.
He has both a nose for goals and an eye for the girls. In the spring of ’08, he began an online relationship with a young woman in Russia, and he won her over with a flood of phone calls, teddy bears and roses. The young woman, identified in various reports only as “Katja” (the diminutive form of Ekaterina), told; “SovSport” that he often texted her before games and during intermissions. Such things as: “Honey, I scored this goal in your honor.” For the record, it is not believed he ever sent the same texts to Sid the Kid. The relaltionship with Katja, then a senior at Moscow’s Pedagogical University, was short-lived. She flew to Washington for a visit, but unlike the cherry trees in D.C., nothing blossomed.
Later in the year he attended the NHL awards show with Alyonka Larionov, daughter of Russian icon and Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. He also has been spotted at times with Victoria Lopyreva, a former Miss Russia.
“You know, everybody has fun,” he once told the Washington Times. “I just want to have fun and I am just normal people. If I go out with different girls, it doesn’t matter. I have a thousand girls, and then it is, ‘Oh, now who’s my girlfriend?’ ”
7. Love of music
Music is among his passions. His tastes vary. Among his favorite artists: Eminem and 50 Cent.
But he didn’t come this far without carrying some tunes from the old country.
“He’s always playing some kind of godawful Russian disco music,” said one frequent visitor to the Caps dressing room. “I mean, just brutal. He puts it on loud in the room and the guys just shut it off.”
8. Masters invite?
Don’t you just hate guys who are good at everything?
Case in point: It’s October 2006 at the Capitals’ preseason charity event in Springfield, Va. Ovie is holding a golf club for the very first time.
You guessed it: hole-in-one.
Stationed at a par-3 160-yard hole for the day, he had his share of hooks and shanks and fades, but sure enough, he eventually figured out the swing thing, teed one up and watched it roll in the hole.
But the lure of the links wasn’t too profound. He has only been back a couple of times in the last three-plus years, with no aces on his scorecard.
We gather he’d rather have one of those Cups instead.