When all was said and done following the Eastern Conference's 12-11 overtime victory in the 47th NHL All-Star Game, it was Montreal's Alex Kovalev -- a player who probably didn't deserve to be on the ice given his play this season -- who walked away with a brand new Honda and the game's award for the Most Valuable Player. But in the aftermath of the weekend's festivities, there was little doubt that Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin was the biggest winner.
In future years if and when anyone looks back at this weekend's events, few will recall the mind-numbing play in regulation, the highlight reel save that Boston goalie Tim Thomas made in the overtime period to preserve the victory for the East or Kovalev's MVP award. What folks will remember, however, are Ovechkin's very public peacemaking with fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, his antics on Saturday night during the SuperSkills competiton (how many of us forgot to notice that Ovechkin scored that goal while shooting lefthanded) and the final goal he scored in the shootout against Vancouver's Roberto Luongo to seal the victory.
Put simply, when the lights were brightest and the game's fans were looking for something special during an All-Star weekend that seems to have run out of gas and has some fans calling for its abolition, Ovechkin seized the moment and delivered in a way no other player in the game has in many years. We all know the standard knock against hockey players: that they're the nicest guys in the world and the easiest to deal with off the ice, but that far too many of them seem to wilt in the spotlight thanks to years of being told that there is no "I" in team.
There's a lot of truth to that hoary cliche', but Ovechkin has seemed to do it one better. While he might be one of the game's most transcendent talents, there's no doubt in the Washington locker room that there's no harder worker on the entire squad, and hence not an iota of resentment of his success or the intense spotlight that it attracts. And as for that spotlight, don't doubt for a moment that Ovechkin craves it as much as he craves the satisfaction and joy he feels when he puts the puck in the back of the net.
As the game's greatest stars scatter again to the four corners of North America, let there be no doubt: Ovechkin is hockey's singular talent and its ultimate showman. Yes, there are others who can and will make the argument for and against whether or not he is the game's best player. But that matters little at this point, because as of right now, there is no other player in the game anywhere who better communicates the sheer joy a great athlete feels when he plays a game he loves as much as life itself.
In hockey, no one even comes close to Ovechkin. And for that, the game -- and in particular the men who bend, fold, spindle and mutilate it -- ought to be grateful.
The Ice Sheet: All-Star Weekend Belongs to Ovechkin originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Mon, 26 Jan 2009 07:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.