Leave it to Bruce Boudreau, Mr. Unpretentious, to get to the heart of the matter of Alex Ovechkin’s staged celebration of his 50th goal Thursday.
“I didn’t say anything [to Ovechkin] yet,” the Washington Capitals coach said after his club’s 5-2 win over Tampa Bay. “My only thought was that it was his 50th, so maybe he was thinking of something special. I don’t know. He has never done that with me, from what I’ve seen. He celebrates, but I thought that was a little planned out.
“I personally don’t like it as much. I love when he jumps into the glass and he shows the genuine emotion and everything. That one wasn’t quite the same thing, I don’t think.”
No, it wasn’t. This was something Terrell Owens would have done if he were a hockey player - dropping his stick on the ice and pretending he couldn’t pick it up because it was too hot to handle.
This isn’t a normal occurrence in hockey, as old school a sport as there is. Ovechkin already had shaken things up with his displays of “genuine” emotion when he scores. Canadian analyst and curmudgeon Don Cherry ripped Ovechkin, saying there is no place for his celebrations in the NHL.
“I’m going to tell you about this guy: He’s got a free ride. He runs at guys, does this stuff,” Cherry said. “I am predicting somebody’s going to get him. And somebody’s going to get him good. There’s somebody out there - some big defenseman is going to be sitting in the weeds. As he cuts across center ice, somebody’s going to cut him in half.”
Cherry came off looking like a clown and on the wrong side of this debate. His words came off as the petty ramblings of a man stuck in a different era, one with little stomach for the flair Ovechkin brings to the ice.
Ovechkin gave Cherry the response he deserved.
“He’s a funny guy and old guy,” Ovechkin said. “He likes old-fashioned hockey. He’s not interesting to me, so he can say whatever he wants. I don’t care about him.”
Apparently, that wasn’t true. Ovechkin, as it turned out, cared very much about what Don Cherry said - to the point that he orchestrated a celebration of his 50th goal that put his teammates in an awkward position.
“Oh yeah, [Cherry] is going to be [ticked] off for sure,” Ovechkin said Thursday. “I love it - love it. I can’t wait to when he say something about it Saturday night. Coach’s Room? No, Coach’s Corner - old coaches, old system. It will be good.”
Well, not so good.
Ovechkin, with this staged celebration, gave Cherry’s comments more power than they deserved. He also punctured his image as the “genuine” superstar who is only expressing his joy and love for the game when he celebrates after scoring. Those reactions seemed to be as much about the team as they were about Ovechkin.
Thursday night’s hot stick celebration was about Ovechkin and Cherry, not the Capitals. Ovechkin came off as putting the superstar above the team - and he tried to drag his teammates into it.
Ovechkin attempted to get Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green to join in the stunt. They refused, so Ovechkin went back to “trying” to pick the stick up alone. Ovechkin said goalie Jose Theodore helped plan the celebration, and he hoped to get Backstrom and Green in on the act.
“[Backstrom] stopped and [Green] stopped, so I just had to do it myself,” Ovechkin said.
Green told reporters he knew the celebration was coming but decided against being a party to it.
“He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I was joining in on that,” he said. “I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does. I think it is great.”
It wasn’t great, and Boudreau knew it. He said he spoke to Ovechkin about it Friday morning. I doubt we will see anything like this from Ovechkin again.
What is great is the exuberance and joy that has defined Ovechkin’s personality on and off the ice, something that comes from the heart - not from Don Cherry’s mouth.