- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals’ next likely star, is just 18, but he doesn’t lack for confidence whether it’s playing hockey or speaking English. The Moscow Dynamo left wing, who is expected to be taken by the Caps first overall in the NHL Draft on June26, was here yesterday to meet the media and attend Game2 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames.

“I want to be first,” the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder said without the help of a translator. “My mom [Tatiana] was twice an Olympic champion [in basketball], and she always tells me, ‘You must be first. You must be first. You must be first if you play hockey. You must be first if you play [soccer, as did his father, Mikhail].’ I want to be first.”

Ovechkin combines the size and strength of a classic power forward with the quick release and sweet shot of a sniper. And few players his age have Ovechkin’s feel for the game. One respected talent evaluator said the only prospects in the past decade as good as Ovechkin were Ilya Kovalchuk, who tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead this year in his second season, and Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay’s All-Star center.

Ovechkin not only captained the Russian team at the World Junior Championships this winter, he held his own against NHL players in this month’s World Championships.

“I’ve never seen a player that young play so well against that level of competition,” said Caps general manager George McPhee, who is being coy about his interest in Ovechkin in hopes of being floored by a trade offer.

Ovechkin was thrilled to play against such players as Ottawa defenseman Zdeno Chara and with Kovalchuk and New York Islanders left wing Alexei Yashin. He also erased any doubts about whether he’s ready for the NHL, assuming there’s no lockout.

“They’re superstars and I’m 18,” Ovechkin said. “It was a very special moment to me. I played how I can. If there’s no [NHL] season, I will play with Dynamo. If not, I want to play in the NHL. I can play a physical game. I can play defense. I can score goals.”

If he’s doing all of that for the Caps, Ovechkin and the team will be happy. Left wing Alexander Semin, who interrupted his rookie year to team with Ovechkin at the World Juniors, already has filled him in about Washington as has his English teacher, Valentina Krasnoiarceva, a former District resident. And Ovechkin won’t have the same problems communicating with coaches and teammates that Semin did last season.

“Alex is a great guy,” Ovechkin said. “He said Washington is a beautiful city with a nice team, nice guys on the team.”

Ovechkin, who often thinks of his late brother Sergei, who taught him how to play hockey, wants No.8, his mother’s old number. If Ovechkin is as good as advertised, defenseman Steve Eminger had better hand it over.

Kolzig gets beaten

Between the first and second periods of last night’s Stanley Cup Finals Game 2, Caps goalie Olie Kolzig faced former Franklin Pierce (N.H.) College skater Andy Slater, a Miami resident who won a contest for the right to win $250,000 by beating the Caps goalie. And he did.

Shooting at a net 12 feet wide and 8 feet high — twice regulation size — Slater beat Kolzig with a high shot that left the Caps goalie laughing.

“A net 12 feet wide, and the guy was shooting from the hash marks,” Kolzig said afterward. “But give him credit — he roofed it in front of 20,000 people.”

Kolzig’s Germany team just missed reaching the quarterfinals at the Worlds but still qualified for the 2006 Olympics. Kolzig is also looking forward to this summer’s World Cup in which center Jeff Halpern and former Caps Peter Bondra, Ken Klee, Steve Konowalchuk, Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang will participate.

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