[When asked on Japers' Rink Radio this past weekend how he thought his forthcoming unauthorized biography of Alex Ovechkin would be received by Caps fans, co-author Damien Cox answered, "A hardcore fan who just wants to hear good things about their team [isn't] going to be happy," but "people who are looking for a more complete picture of this guy [will] really enjoy an independent look."
The book hits shelves in November (you can pre-order it now through the publisher or online retailers), and you'll have a chance to judge it for yourself. But to tide you over until then, here's the first of two excerpts we'll be sharing this week, recounting a scene from the 2005 World Junior Championship...]
The hate between Crosby and Ovechkin really began with their first meeting—physical meeting that is—midway through the first period. They weren’t ships passing in the night then—more like trains colliding at the crossing. Canadian coach Brent Sutter matched the line of Bergeron between Crosby and Corey Perry against Ovechkin’s line, with the punishing defence tandem of Dion Phaneuf and Shea Weber backing them up. Crosby was only 17, had to wear a full faceshield under IIHF rules and had been moved to the wing from his usual center position in deference to his older, more experienced teammates. He wore No. 9 on his red Team Canada jersey, not the No. 87 he would make famous. With Russia down 2–0 partway through the first period, Ovechkin carried the puck down the left wing and pulled up just outside the Canadian blueline rather than take on Weber directly, taking a sharp turn to his right. It wasn’t that Ovechkin was being too cute—that type of curl-up with puck possession is routine in European hockey, and would become one of Ovechkin’s trademark moves in the NHL. This time, however, he underestimated the danger on the NHL-sized rink at the Ralph Englestad Arena on the campus of the University of North Dakota and the speed that back-checking forwards could close with. He also had his head turned, looking for teammates to catch up and didn’t pick up Crosby skating hard into the frame. He only felt him. In the crosshairs. Though giving away four inches and 30 pounds at a minimum, Crosby drove his hip and shoulder into Ovechkin’s torso, separating him from the puck. Ovechkin was staggered by the blow, and while he didn’t fall, he was clearly hurt as he winced and shook his head. Crosby had been winded himself but didn’t want Ovechkin to know, so he got up the ice like it was just another day at the office. Ovechkin played a few more shifts and continued to absorb punishment, including a pair of hard checks to his chest from Bergeron, plus shots from Perry and Mike Richards. It felt like when he was a kid and every time the elevator door opened The Demon would ambush him. He couldn’t play. By the second period he was watching from the bench. By the time of the post-game press conference, he had his right arm in a sling, protecting a separated shoulder. If the hit wasn’t pre-meditated, exactly, it was an opportunity that Crosby had been looking for, and he took it with relish. "Yeah, I knew it was him [Ovechkin]," Crosby said. "And really it was a situation that we knew to look for. From watching him and from the scouting reports we knew that Ovechkin liked to pull up at the blue line and skate towards the middle."
Ovechkin went back to Moscow where he’d heal and eventually rejoin Dynamo and wait out the rest of the NHL lockout. Crosby went back to Rimouski, a small town in Quebec where he was playing for the local major junior team, and still managed to steal Ovechkin’s thunder.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Ovechkin Project: A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Hockey’s Most Dangerous Player, by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce. Copyright © 2010 by Damien Cox, Gare Joyce.