North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘nhl playoffs

Ovechkins celebrations a cause better left alone

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Last night in Toronto, Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin wore a Coach’s Corner T-shirt while warming up before the game. On the back was written “RESPECT”.

For those not in the loop, that is Don Cherry’s CBC segment. The segment where Cherry has blasted Ovechkin this season for his goal celebrations.

It was a sign that Ovechkin is ready to move on from the micro-controversy that has been clouding over him since a fateful game against Tampa Bay when he scored his 50th goal of the season. After hitting on a wrist shot, taken just inside the blue line to the left of Lightening goalie Mike McKenna, Ovechkin dropped his stick and pantomimed that he couldn’t pick it up, it was too hot.

On the scale of celebrations, it was far from the worst. It was Terrell Owens running to midfield after scoring a touchdown against Dallas. There was no disrespect, no taunting. Ovechkin was having a lark, like he does with most of his goals. One remembers him running on the ice or jumping into the boards after big goals. He is not one to simply smile and raise a hand when he scores. Rather, he wears his emotion on his sleeve.

And this wears on some people’s patience.

Don Cherry is one. He disagrees with what Ovechkin does and compares it to Jerome Iginla, who rarely does anything much after scoring. If Ovechkin is excitable, Iginla is workmanlike in his poise. After scoring his 50th last season against Vancouver, he put his stick up in the air and hugged a couple players.

Cherry makes a few points. By celebrating so much, he opens himself up to criticism. A parallel to baseball, as poised by Cherry, is fitting: if you stare too long at a home run, you’re likely to get thrown at. That happens. In hockey, Ovechkin may find that he’s getting a few more elbows thrown his way and that referees might decide to let them play.

Cherry keeps at it, though. “They’re laughing at you, Alex” he opined this past weekend. He found the stick-play more then harmless. A taunt. Rubbing it in. Think of the poor Lightening, all the way down in the standings.

Here he oversteps, and not just because Ovechkin is has 50 goals because he’s on a good Capitals team — if anything, the Capitals are a good team because Ovechkin has 50 goals. He reads too far into Ovechkins actions and leads one to wonder if in Cherry’s ideal world, there would have be no celebrations and pitchers can throw at hockey forwards.

Unaddressed by Cherry was Cliff Ronning in the 1991 Smythe finals, Theo Fleury in the 91 Smythe semi-finals or Teemu Selanne setting the goal record for a rookie.

One wonders if the shirt will be addressed on Saturday by Cherry. It’s a show of respect, yes, but the shirt means something else too: he’s tired of talking about it.

What’s a better sign then what Ovechkin did last night after scoring his 51st against the Maple Leafs? After crossing in front of Leafs goalie Martin Gerber, he pulled the puck in, waited for Gerber to bite and backhanded the puck past him.

And then he hugged some teammates with what looked to me like a hand pointing up to the press box.

Written by M.

March 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Hockey, nhl

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Sidney Crosby is a player under pressure

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Second in an ongoing series at current athletes

There’s this ad in Canada right now for Tim Horton’s that stars Sidney Crosby. He’s riding a bus – presumably with the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins – out in some kind of countryside.

The bus breaks down, Crosby looks out the window and sees a group of kids playing hockey on a pond. And grabbing his stick, skates and gloves (nice to know he keeps those handy), he goes out and plays with them while a light snow begins to fall.

It’s a cute ad, though it’s one I like a bit for an entirely unrelated reason. And it’s one of many, many ads that prominently feature one Sidney Patrick Crosby, currently of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His likeness is attached to everything from clothing (including the stuff he wears in that Tims ad) to Gatorade.

The NHL is hitching its wagon to Crosby. He is the face of the league, hockey’s spokesperson and maybe the best talent to come out of Canada in a long, long time. Already the captain of the Penguins at the young age of 21, he’s already tearing into the league; he led the league in scoring in his second season by putting up the Gretzky-like 120 points – before he turned 20.

Fair or unfairly, that is a shadow he is gong to have to with. The shadow of Gretzky will always lie on hockey, but especially so on Crosby, as it has on every Canadian player in recent memory, from Eric Lindros to Alexandre Daigle. But for Crosby, it is perhaps the best comparison that could be made.

Like him he wears a high number. Like him he’s got a great scoring touch – but is just as likely to set somebody else up instead. Like him, he started his career on a young team brimming with talent. And like him, Crosby came into the league with a ton of hype.

Gretzky lived up to his, putting up unreal numbers in a time where scoring was at a peak. His 200 plus point seasons are unlikely to ever be repeated, let alone broken. Even now, close to a decade after his final game, his name is still shorthand for greatness in hockey.

This has to weigh down on Crosby. He a great talent, yes, but the entire league sometimes seems to pivot on his shoulders. Gretzky never had to save anything from oblivion.

He started immediately after the NHL cancelled an entire season. He is, through no fault of his own, the savior of hockey, the player who will rescue the sport from cable-TV obscurity.

The NHL he inherited was a league in it’s worst shape in decades, since the halcyon days of Gretzky, Lemieux and Messier. The league had moved from ESPN to OLN, a small network best known for broadcasts of fishing and the Tour de France and an occasional game on NBC. The NHL had just endured a lockout that cancelled a season – the first time an entire season had been cancelled in a major pro sport. Scoring was down.

Hockey was in danger of losing its position as the fourth sport in the US. Some would even argue it already had: to NASCAR.

So along came this baby-faced kid, not even old enough to vote, who was supposed to change all of this. He was supposed to be a tremendous talent, somebody that the NHL could latch itself to.

He thusly was prominently featured on NBC’s game of the week. He is in almost innumerable ads. He is the face of hockey in North America, to the North American fan. And this must certainly have put an incredible amount of pressure upon him.

Sidney Crosby is cranky. He has been called a whiner. He jawbones at referees, he argues for calls and it has been written that other players think he’s soft. This was most evident earlier this year, when he complained a hit from Alexander Ovechkin was dirty.

So, yes, he does complain. But no other player has the same circumstances he does; the expectations, the pressure, the hype and the weight.

Back to that ad I like so much. I don’t like it for it’s contrived scenario, or for it’s forced punch line. I like it for what I think it unconsciously shows about Crosby.

He gets away, but he’s still known. He escapes to a backwoods pond but everybody still recognizes him. He smiles because he loses himself in the game. He’s away from all the lights, from all the hype and the noise and the talk and the expectations…

Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman of BBDO North America, once wrote that advertising is not about ideas, but insights. What insight, then, is behind that ad? Was it an attachment of hockey being an escape for Crosby? Or was it an extension of earlier ads that showcased his history with minor hockey? Or was it even saying something at all?

I remember a couple years ago, Crosby was on the Tonight Show. He brought along the dryer he used to shoot pucks at in the basement of his parents house, back when he was growing up. That was how he used to practice his shot. Not against an older brother, not against a family friend, not against his dad. But by shooting pucks into an open dryer.

A solitary activity, turned by his talent, into him charged with saving a professional sport from obscurity.

It’s a heavy weight for a kid who’s barely old enough to order a beer.

Written by M.

March 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm