TORONTO – Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin is making no apologies for the celebration that followed his 50th goal last week.
The Russian star followed through with a plan to put his stick on the ice and pretend to warm his hands over it. It sparked a debate on how far celebrations should go in the sport.
“If you win the lottery – a million dollars – you go to the bar and drink a lot,” Ovechkin said Tuesday before the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. “I scored 50 goals and I just celebrated.”
Ovechkin scored the opening goal in a 5-2 victory over the Lightning last Thursday. His celebration was front-page material in sports sections and on websites, a top item on sportscasts and a hot subject on radio phone-in shows.
Some hockey observers think Ovechkin is a breath of fresh air in a sport that could use a little pizzazz. Others think he went too far.
Ovechkin said he didn’t mean to disrespect his opponents – he just loves to score and have fun on the ice.
“It’s good for our league, it’s good for our fans,” Ovechkin said. “Some players are just like robots. They score goals and it’s like OK, no emotion, nothing, they basically go OK. You have to show emotion if you’re an emotional guy – show it.
“You don’t have to think about if somebody doesn’t like it. I don’t care about it if somebody (doesn’t) like it. I play myself, I enjoy my life, I’ve enjoyed my whole career. If somebody (doesn’t) like it, don’t watch my game, don’t watch what I’m doing on the ice.”
Ovechkin scored his 51st goal against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, and his celebration was far more subdued this time. With 21 seconds left in the second period, Ovechkin cut in from the right wing and effortlessly beat Leafs netminder Martin Gerber. He calmly raised his stick with one hand then pointed skyward with the other as he was congratulated by teammates.
Many NHL players follow the same script after scoring a goal – raise stick, hug teammates, head to bench for high-fives.
He seems genuinely thrilled every time he scores. He has been known to jump against the glass, leap into the arms of a teammate, and cup his hand to his ear to generate more cheers from the fans.
However, not everyone was impressed with his display last Thursday.
Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said Ovechkin “went down a notch in my books after that.” Personality Don Cherry criticized Ovechkin on his television show. Ovechkin’s teammate Mike Green was on the ice at the time but preferred to watch from a distance.
Others thought it was great to see a player having fun.
“I thought it was awesome,” Canadiens forward Georges Laraque said this week. “He’s the best player in the world, the most entertaining player the NHL ever had and it’s not like it was his 20th goal, it was his 50th goal.”
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau talked to Ovechkin after the game and said the 23-year-old had no idea that people might not like his display.
“He has all these celebrations that no team worries about,” Boudreau said. “But when it was something out of the ordinary, somebody might get upset about it even though his thought process wasn’t, ‘I’m doing this to show you up.’ It was, ‘I’m doing this to celebrate my 50th goal.’ I hope we put that (issue) to bed.
“There was no animosity toward anybody. It was just him being a really emotional, energetic young man.”
Boudreau was also asked if he thought Ovechkin was approaching the level of planned celebrations that are often seen in pro football.
“If it was a continued thing, I would say yes,” Boudreau said. “But it’s a one-time incident. End of story. I would like to see him score another goal and soon. But I don’t think he’s going to be taking out a pen and writing on his stick and handing it over to (Leafs coach) Ron (Wilson) after he scores. It’s the first time he ever did that, so I think we have to cut him a little slack.”
Ovechkin, who won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player last year, had 52 goals as a rookie in 2005-06, 46 in 2006-07 and 65 last season. He is the franchise’s first three-time 50-goal scorer.
He said Tuesday that he wasn’t bothered by Cherry’s comments on his “Coach’s Corner” segment. Cherry wasn’t over the top with his criticism but did think the celebration was excessive.
“He can say whatever he wants,” Ovechkin said. “I think fans love when something is going on around the league. His TV show is very popular, I think, and I like it.”
Ovechkin and some teammates got loose before Tuesday’s game by playing with a soccer ball outside the locker-room. Ovechkin, showing his sense of humour, was dressed in a “Coach’s Corner” T-shirt and “Hockey Night In Canada” boxer shorts. The word “RESPECT” was printed in black letters across the back of the shirt.
Wilson also weighed in on the celebration issue after the Leafs skate.
“I don’t think anybody wants to see orchestrated things in this league,” he said. “If that’s why people watch the NFL, I don’t think people are really on to what the NFL is all about, you’re not waiting to see what the celebration in the end zone is going to be.
“But seeing how excited he is when he scores, I think we need more people like that. Just the exuberance. He looks like he loves what he’s doing. I think that’s very important and we need more players like that.”
– With files from Canadian Press reporter Bill Beacon in Montreal