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By Mark Solway | September 8th, 2006

I love hockey. I know that’s surprising to anyone who knows me; I am after all, a Canadian. I was going through my things to do list last night when I came across a press release I printed from the Washington Capitals announcing the opening date for the start of their training camp. The Caps kick off their season next Friday at 10:00am, when the first of two player groups hit the ice.. Running a Redskins website puts my finger on the pulse of most Washington sports – the Capitals, the Nationals, and the Wizards are all talked about on the message boards from time to time. I don’t care much for baseball or basketball, so I pay little attention to the Wizards and the Nationals. But as I said, I love hockey as much as I love football, and I actually started watching the Capitals for one reason last year – Alexander Ovechkin. I’m sure that most of you Washingtonians are at least familiar with the name, he’s ‘das wunderkind’ who took the National Hockey League by storm last year. This guy is so good, that he actually made me watch a fair bit of Capitals hockey last year just to see if the hype was warranted. Now I recognize that most of you are Redskin fans and that most of your sports entertainment budget is going to go to the Redskins, but have you ever thought about what you’re missing? Ovechkin is a once-in-a-generation type of hockey player. Let me say that again… Ovechkin is a once-in-a-generation type of hockey player. I am not trying to say that he is good… I’m not trying to say that he is very good… I’m saying that a player of his caliber doesn’t come around but once every 15-20 years. In his rookie season he put up some gaudy numbers… 100-plus points (106) … 52 of which were goals… and some of those goals were some of the nicest goals you’ll ever see in a game of hockey. And none of that has anything to do with my fascination for ‘Ovie’ as he’s more affectionately known. You see, he’s also an animal. I don’t mean he’s the team tough guy, or a goon, but there’s absolutely no fear in the twenty-one year old either. Last year I watched in amazement as Ovie bruised his way through the league en route to his rookie of the year Calder Trophy winning performance. Sure it was his goal and point totals that likely got him the recognition, but it’s the kid’s fire and passion that has most hockey pundits excited. I’ve been watching over 100 games of hockey a year for more than 20 years, and I don’t think I have ever seen a player with such wonderful skills that possesses such tenacity and toughness. The closest thing in the league right now is probably Jerome Iginla and he’s considered by many to be the top player in the sport. Ovie isn’t quite the physical presence on the ice that Iginla is, and Iginla is known as a great team leader, but Ovechkin is making huge strides there as well. Ovechkin definitely matches up in terms of skills, in fact, it’s conservative to not just say that he is slightly superior. It’s only one season as well, whereas Iginla is a perennial powerhouse, but let’s remember that we’re comparing the young Russian phenomenon to one of, if not THE very best in hockey. In fact, the only player I can remember ever having the type of hockey abilities that Ovechkin has, that also played with a mean streak, was one Mario Lemieux. Now before you throw stones at me, even Ovechkin has a long way to go to reach that type of upper echelon. But remember when Super Mario broke into the National Hockey League? He fought, he checked, and of course, he wowed people with his amazing talent. Mario’s mean streak seemed to dissipate as he learned that he owed it to his team to play smart and stay healthy. Lemieux is one of the game’s greatest players ever, so some likely think that Ovie would do well to take queues from the Magnificent One. But I’m not sure Ovechkin even has that type of ‘stop-gap’ in himself. The kid is just flat out… lights out; and if you skate around with your head down, he’ll put YOUR lights out. He loves to crash and bang, seemingly as much as he likes to roof a slap shot from the slot. I’m pretty sure that Ovechkin led the Capitals in body checks as well in his rookie season. No joke. he was certainly leading the team late in the season. That’s impressive for any player of Ovie’s considerable skill level, let alone from a rookie. He’s basically still just a kid. A kid having fun, and that’s what makes him so entertaining to watch.. Are you Washingtonians even aware of what you have there? If Ovechkin lived and played in Toronto, there might actually be 20,000 people at Maple Leaf practice. And that’s just the media. 😉 So that brings me to my point of this whole blog… WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GO SEE THE GUY! The Caps training camp opens Friday September 15th, and like Redskins training camp, it IS open to the general public. The Capitals will practice at the Ashburn Icehouse in Ashburn, Virginia. That’s just a stone’s throw from Redskin Park. I don’t care if you’ve never been to a hockey game… it’s not even all that relevant if you like hockey… just go and treat yourself to seeing one of the very best athletes on the planet. It won’t cost you anything to go, and if you’ve never been to a hockey game or practice, you just might be surprised at how much better the game is live. If just going to a practice isn’t something you fancy, then go to a game. It never ceases to amaze me that all of you will pony up top dollar to see a Redskin game and then gripe about the costs, and don’t seek an occasional, more reasonable entertainment alternative. Families can go see a Capitals game for a fraction of what a trip to Fed Ex will run you, and you can take the metro right into the basement of the arena. I’ll go you all one further. I’m going to talk to the Capitals and see if I can arrange some sort of promotion for THN on tickets… or maybe some special day for THNers to go see a Capitals game. Maybe if I can get you to go and see what you’re missing… you won’t want to miss it. Frankly, I can’t believe there’s ever an empty seat in the Verizon Center with Ovie playing, but I know that there are. The kid is phenomenal. So phenomenal that the team decided that rather than rebuild through the draft, they would try and grab some talent more quickly to make a run at the Stanley Cup. When you have the ability to make an entire franchise change direction based on your performance in one year of hockey – you’re a real superstar. And Alexander Ovechkin is definitely a real superstar. http://www.washingtoncaps.com/uploads/players/3F5B76EF845B402D8554ADF9B008C86A.jpg Here are some links on the Caps site where you can find out more information: Ovechkin’s Player Page Washington Capitals Training Camp Schedule Washington Capitals Preseason and Regular Season Schedule Verizon Center…

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