May 10, 2009

$20 A DAY?:

A Game-Changer From Moscow: Hard-hitting Alex Ovechkin electrifies crowds in hockey's playoffs (REED ALBERGOTTI, 5/09/09, WSJ)

While some of the NHL's best Russian players, with their methodic style of play, have had trouble winning over fans, Mr. Ovechkin is delivering sellout crowds with his loose-cannon personality that permeates his interviews and off-the-ice behavior, as well as his style of play -- a hard-charging, vertical onslaught of physicality. He peppers goalies with pucks more than anyone else in the league with a shot so hard it seems as though he borrowed it from someone twice his 225-pound, 6-foot-2 build. He once broke his nose in the first period of a game and went on to score four goals. He celebrates after goals with moves that could be NFL touchdown dances. He has been scolded by his team for driving his Mercedes upwards of 150 miles per hour, and has gotten at least one ticket.

In a sign of the problems facing the NHL, which has been hit by labor disputes and team bankruptcy filings, the playoff matchup may go largely unseen. It is being broadcast on the Versus cable network which is available in 75 million U.S. households. Just about 1.26 million people tuned in Monday to see Messrs. Ovechkin and Crosby score three goals each. Some playoff games are available live on the NHL's "Game Center" Web site for $19.95 a day, but the remaining Washington-Pittsburgh series is not, because Versus has exclusive broadcast rights.

An NHL spokeswoman says it is happy with Versus and its regular season ratings are up 20% this year over last. [...]

A key to Mr. Ovechkin's play: he can stay on the ice for two minutes at a time. Most players go off after 45 seconds. As a result, teams must switch their defensemen, giving Mr. Ovechkin a shot at his opponent's weaker line.

Mr. Ovechkin, in a telephone interview Thursday, credited his dramatic increase in endurance over recent seasons to endurance and interval training with former Russian Olympic runner Dmitry Kapitonov, the current Russian record-holder for the half-marathon.

The season after Mr. Ovechkin began working with Mr. Kapitonov, the 2007-08 season, his average shift time jumped to 1:05 from 53 seconds the year earlier, an increase of 22.6%, according to data provided by the league.

Mr. Ovechkin's recovery is so fast that he can run all-out wind sprints on a track and his heart rate will drop down almost immediately, says his personal manager, Konstantin Selinevich. The quick recovery means Mr. Ovechkin can catch his breath between whistles.

"He has a second set of lungs," says Capitals teammate Sergei Fedorov.

One would be tempted to say the NHL should just start its own network, like the NFL and MLB have, but they'd price it so prohibitively no one but the hard cores would buy it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2009 6:03 AM
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