Duthie: Ovechkin and the Caps - Every fan's back-up plan

James Duthie
4/14/2008 7:36:38 PM
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When your favourite NHL team doesn't make the playoffs, or is headed towards quick elimination in the first round (not that you'd know any team like that…right…hello? Anyone? Bueller? Burkie?), hockey fans can do one of two things:  turn off the TV, go outside and rake the…ah…snow, or pick go to Plan B, and bandwagon-jump to another club. 

C'mon, we all do it.  It doesn't mean you have to buy their car flag. You just quietly release your inner Angelina Jolie and adopt them for a couple of months.

And right now, the Washington Capitals are harder to resist than a puppy in a shelter. They are becoming everyone's second-favourite team.

This is due almost entirely to the infectious enthusiasm and amusing facial hair of one Alexander Ovechkin

Sure, he hit a speed bump in Game Two against the Flyers.  The wager here is that just makes him angrier, edgier, and more dangerous the rest of the way.

After two years of playing bass to lead singer Sidney Crosby in the small band of NHL megastars, this is Ovechkin's time.  The Great Eight has already won The Art Ross, The Rocket Richard, and The Hart is a formality.  He has also caught Crosby in terms of mass popularity.  If they meet in the second round (which would happen if both teams, and Montreal advance), it will be the hockey equivalent of Tiger and Phil in the final pairing at Augusta.  No wait, it's better.  Tiger and Phil can't whack each other in the back of the knees with their lob wedges (and that's a shame).

While Sidney is polished and corporate slick, Ovechkin is still a raw, wild child.  He's barely changed from the rookie who jumped around the tee-box screaming after getting a hole-in-one at the Capitals golf tournament, yelling to teammates across three fairways:  "It went een!  I swear a Gawd!"

He celebrates every goal like it's the OT winner in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final   (can't wait to see what he does when he actually scores the OT winner in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final). 

He is adored by coaches, teammates, and…opponents.  At an after-after-after party (put it this way: it was late) at the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta, a group of players greeted Ovechkin's arrival with cheers, man-hugs, and high-fives, like he was the president of their fraternity. Alpha Phi Snipe. 

When the NHL debuted the Slam-Dunk Contest style shootout earlier that night (whose goofy idea was that, anyway? Oh.  Right.), he was the only one with the onions to attempt the kind of circus tricks the league was hoping for.  Even when he whiffed, the crowd went nuts. 

The kid just gets it.  On ice, and off.  Back in February, we were doing a story about a six year-old cancer survivor, Jordan Primeau, whose dream was to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs (children get confused at that age).  Ovechkin happened to be in town, and when he heard about the story, asked if he could meet the boy, too.  He came to the rink early to spend a few minutes with Jordan, and gave him an autographed stick.   Jordan's allegiances are now torn.

He's not alone.  In hockey fashion - The Capitals are the new black.

They aren't the traditional Cinderella, thanks to the wonky seeding system that allows the 8th best team in the conference to have the 3rd spot.   In fact, most considered them a slight favourite against Philadelphia going in.  But they still carry that underdog air.  Their coach is a lovable career minor-leaguer who looks like Benny Hill, and does nothing but win. They're young, fast, and fragile, a team that could win by 7 one night, and lose by 6 the next.

So if you've given up hope on your team, fret not.  The Adopt-the-Caps program is free, and available to frustrated fans of all playoff-missing and soon-to-be playoff-eliminated clubs.   Call now.  1-800-SWEAR-A-GAWD.

The Ottawa Citizen

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