- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alexander Ovechkin’s regular-season-ending hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell, coming after a season of controversies on and off the ice for the Capitals superstar, has some in the hockey world openly wondering: Is Ovechkin dirty?

Ovechkin has been strong again this season for the Capitals, leading the NHL with 96 points and is second behind Sidney Crosby’s with 44 goals — despite missing six games with injury and three games and counting due to suspension.

But the superstar’s profile has taken a few dings.

A check on Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta in a game in November, followed up with a knee-on-knee collision with Carolina’s Tim Gleason earned Ovechkin a two-game suspension.

In February, Ovechkin’s hit on the Czech Republic’s Jaromir Jagr in Vancouver was the talk of the tournament, and his Russian team’s ensuing embarrassing ouster at the hands of host Canada led to a frustrated Ovechkin getting videotaped grabbing a woman’s cellphone in the aftermath of the loss to the eventual gold-medalists.

Now, Ovechkin has been suspended again after sending Campbell into the rear boards, breaking his collarbone and leaving the Stanley Cup contenders without their top blueliner for seven to eight weeks.

“I’m really disappointed for Alex,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters this week. “You try to look at this from an objective view and I can see where, if you’re not a Washington fan or a part of Washington, you’re sitting there, ‘Yeah suspend him, suspend him’. If you’re looking at it from our point of view, people keep calling it a reckless hit and to me it was a push from behind that, if he had have gone straight, he would have gone on the ice.”

Arguably, Ovechkin’s hit isn’t even the most dangerous hit in the NHL in the last 10 days — Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke giving Boston’s Marc Savard a concussion on March 7 or Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie attempting a slew-foot on Crosby Sunday ranks right up there — but it was the only one of the three to warrant a suspension from the NHL’s Colin Campbell.

But, Ovechkin’s full-throttle style of play has generated a strong reaction, and while he certainly isn’t the dirtiest player in the NHL, being a superstar, he’s getting an earful from critics.

Sportsnet.ca’s Mike Brophy wrote Wednesday that not only may his shot on Campbell earn him retribution, but also cost him a chance at his third straight Hart Trophy as some media members could factor in his two suspensions this season when choosing the league’s MVP.

“At some point his callousness towards others is going to come back to bite him. For starters, he may soon find himself the victim of a payback cheap shot. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Also, when it comes time to vote for the Hart Trophy, there may be some members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association who feel the NHL has been too lenient regarding Ovechkins unruliness and may decide to punish him further themselves.”

Outspoken former player Jeremy Roenick told Canadian TV network TSN that Ovechkin’s name has become a lightning rod, even though his actions don’t warrant this kind of negative reaction.

“Dirty players are all over the league. [Nashville’s] Jordin Tootoo is 10 times as dirty a player [as Ovechkin], nobody is sitting here and talking about him and how he goes out head hunting,” Roenick told the network’s ‘Off the Record.’ “Everybody wants to talk about the big guys and obviously the more important superstars. Let’s talk about [Ottawa’s Jarko] Ruutu and all the stupid things that he’s done.

“There are a lot of head hunters and guys who go out just to try and hurt people in the National Hockey League and we got to take those guys out, and talk about those guys just as much,” Roenick added. “[Ovechkin] plays the game extremely hard, and some times he plays it dirty, but that’s the way he plays and I don’t think you’re going to change him.”

The Campbell incident also was unique, taking place on a nationally-televised game between two of the NHL’s top clubs this season. While NBC’s studio analysts Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire weighed in that they didn’t think his hit even warranted the game misconduct he received, the severity of Campbell’s injury apparently was the main factor in the two-game ban.

The NHL’s Campbell — no relation to the Blackhawks’ star — told XM Radio’s NHL Live Wednesday that because of the severity of the injury, the NHL handed down a suspension when “probably” nothing is handed down if the defenseman doesn’t get seriously hurt on the play.

But, of course, now with the “repeat offender” tag now affixed to Ovechkin, he will be more under the microscope — both by the media and the league’s disciplinary officials.

However, one of the sources of pride of Ovechkin is his playing tough every night, which has earned him his share of fans — as well as critics.

“I don’t care if you’re dirty or not, or if you have a history or not, if you hit somebody in the head or you injure somebody you need to get suspended for it,” Campbell’s teammate Adam Burish told the Chicago Tribune after Tuesday’s practice in Anaheim. “I was glad to see that the league finally did that. But I think it’s because Ovechkin has had so many of them. It’s disappointing because this is somebody’s job, this is somebody’s career, this is someone’s livelihood.”

But, when asked if he thought Ovechkin was a dirty player, Burish took a step back.

“I don’t think he’s dirty,” said Burish. “He is definitely reckless and he’s not always in control of what’s going on. Maybe you need to fight once in a while. Maybe somebody needs to grab him and give it to him one time. I think if you’re going to play that way you need to answer the bell.”

As for Ovechkin himself, he was surprised he got the suspension, and certainly didn’t seem to be eager to change his game.

“I am very sorry that Brian was injured and I hope he is able to return to his team soon,” Ovechkin said in a statement released Tuesday. “NHL hockey is a physical game. We all play hard every time we are on the ice and have battles each shift in every game we play so we can do our jobs and win. As players we must accept responsibility for our actions and I am no different but I did not intend to injure Brian and that is why I was disappointed with the NHL’s decision yesterday.

“Every time I have the honor to play for my team, I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans. I look forward to returning to my team and doing everything I can to be the best player I can be.”

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