VANCOUVER, B.C. – As Washington Capitals star sniper Alexander Ovechkin walks down the busy Vancouver streets, he can go nary a few steps without being recognized.
“Everybody just comes to me and says, ‘What’s up?’ It’s pretty cool. I feel like a movie star,” Ovechkin, flashing his trademark toothless smile, told reporters Friday.
He’s yet to appear in any Hollywood feature films, but Ovechkin might be the National Hockey League’s leading man when it comes to awe-inspiring YouTube clips.
The 24-year-old two-time most valuable player has put together a highlight reel complete with tumbling goals and bone-crunching hits, earning him a legion of fans who are every bit as passionate off the ice as Ovechkin is on it.
Ovie’s first visit to Vancouver in more than three years generated no shortage of buzz. More and more red Capitals jerseys suddenly started springing up around the city as Friday’s tilt with the Canucks drew closer.
Thursday, hundreds of fans lined up at a downtown Vancouver store for an Ovechkin autograph signing.
Friday, dozens more waited outside General Motors Place after a Capitals skate, hoping Ovechkin would have time during the two-metre walk from the door to the team bus to greet the crowd.
Ovechkin said he always enjoys the added attention when his Capitals head north of the border, though he wouldn’t mind if the media was a little more original with what it asked him.
“Sometimes it’s kind of boring because it’s the same questions,” he said Thursday, laughing. “I can put (them) on a list and just give it to you guys. But it’s your job and you have to do it so it’s normal stuff.”
Many of the questions posed to Ovechkin had to do with the upcoming Vancouver Olympics.
Ovechkin, who scored 56 goals last season one year after posting a career-high 65, will play for Russia at the 2010 Games.
But he’s doing his best to focus on the task at hand and not the one in February.
“I’m looking forward to it but it’s still two months away so I don’t think about it a lot,” he said.
“Of course you get excited. You can see (the) Olympic logo everywhere and you start to realize this is an Olympic city.”
While NHL players will participate in the 2010 Winter Games, the NHL has yet to commit to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Ovechkin has said he will play in the Sochi Games whether the NHL participates or not and he believes it’s unfair for the league to treat the Canadian Olympics differently from those held in Russia.
“You represent your country,” he said. “You represent your home, parents, family and friends. I just want to play there. It’s the biggest tournament for national teams and everybody wants to be there, so me too.”
Among Ovechkin’s fans are his on-ice opponents.
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will head to the Olympics himself as a member of Team Canada, raved about Ovechkin’s mix of power, speed and skill.
“He’s an exciting player to watch and he brings a lot to the game,” Luongo said, quickly adding his appreciation for Ovechkin ends as soon as the two players hit the same ice.
Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell echoed Luongo’s words Friday.
“(Ovechkin is) the most exciting player in the game, I think. I love his passion, I love how he plays, I love his celebrations. I like how he plays physical,” Mitchell said.
When asked how his game has changed since he entered the league, and if he prefers to score goals or see his teammates light the lamp, Ovechkin, characteristically, answered with a grin.
“It’s probably 55 per cent to score, 45 per cent to get assist.”