Alex Ovechkin probably didn't give the NHL All-Star Game a second thought last season, his first in the league, mainly because it had been wiped off the calendar by the Winter Olympics.
This season Ovechkin is paying attention, and he has reason to do so. The star wing yesterday was named to the starting lineup of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, playing on a line that includes two of his primary competitors -- Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Buffalo's Daniel Briere.
Crosby led all players with 825,783 votes. Ovechkin received 475,297 votes.
The left wing is the first Caps player named an All-Star starter since defenseman Rod Langway in 1986. Ovechkin was voted NHL rookie of the year last season and was selected to the first All-Star team, the first Caps forward ever so honored.
"I'm excited," Ovechkin acknowledged when asked about the prospect of playing in the game Jan. 24 in Dallas. "Me and Sidney have good relations and Briere ..."
Ovechkin chuckled at the thought of playing on the same line as the Buffalo star. The two had a run-in earlier this season, with the Caps wing drawing a $1,000 fine for a hit that drove Briere into the boards head-first. Briere retaliated the next time the two met by pitch-forking Ovechkin in the stomach.
"Briere, we just have a couple hits, me and him," Ovechkin said.
The Caps left wing is an autograph hound and collects sticks signed by players he admires. He already has dozens, and the game in Dallas will add greatly to his horde.
"Maybe I ask somebody's stick, probably a couple defensemen, add to my collection," he said. "But I don't know who will be there."
Fans pick the starting units for each team, with coaches selecting the rest of the squads. The starting units are guaranteed to open the game.
"I'm happy to go All-Star Game; I will see if I will be best player," Ovechkin said. The All-Star Game MVP usually receives a car as his reward.
With all great athletes, every contest -- even the truly trivial like this exhibition -- becomes a competition. At a gathering of the league's best, Ovechkin probably will find it hard to resist the temptation to rise above the rest simply because he has a stage to perform on.
"I'm extremely happy for him," coach Glen Hanlon said.
Washington goalie Olie Kolzig finished seventh in the voting and likely will not be picked as a backup, which is probably fine with him. At 36, he probably appreciates the days off more.