- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Alexander Ovechkin, the youngest player on the Russian national team competing in the World Cup of Hockey, scored in his tournament debut Sunday night in Toronto, helping lead Russia to a 5-2 victory against Slovakia.

Ovechkin, taken by the Washington Capitals with the No.1 pick in the June amateur draft, bumped veteran Oleg Kvasha out of the lineup and capped the scoring for Russia.

Unfortunately, Ovechkin, who turns 19 in 10 days, might not be in a Washington uniform for a year or more. The Caps have said they will not negotiate any contracts until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the NHL and its players union and until a new transfer agreement is hammered out between the league and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

With that in mind and the deadline for a promised lockout by the NHL just nine days away, the tournament for prospects at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Mich., has been canceled.

The Caps participated in the five-team tournament the past two seasons, winning it once. It would have given them a chance to see many of their top prospects in action against players their own age.

“I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference this year,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “We didn’t want to commit to the cost of going this year in light of the [labor] uncertainty, and given that players like Ovechkin, Chris Bourque and Stephen Werner wouldn’t be available to play anyway, it made more sense to stay home.”

The Caps got a good look at most of their prospects during rookie camp in July, so Traverse City might have been more of a rerun.

“Anyway, we know where everybody is going,” McPhee said about assignments. “The college kids [Bourque and Werner] are going back to college, certain kids are going back to junior and the rest of them are going to the American [Hockey] League, and we’ll be able to watch them all season there.”

Ovechkin, who is unsigned, will return to Dynamo Moscow of the Russian Super League. But as many as five prospects might end up with South Carolina, the Caps’ new affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin made his debut on the fourth line Sunday night for a team that prefers rookies to sit and watch. Before the game was over, he had converted some pretty tough critics — the Toronto press.

“Ovechkin looked like your typical over-eager teenager when he fell flat on his keester while twisting to receive a pass in the first period,” Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox wrote.

“But by the third he was one of his team’s most dangerous-looking attackers. … He scored a terrific goal, nearly added another and meted out several heavy bodychecks to Slovak players who have probably already had quite enough of this World Cup without having to play Canada one more time.”

“Seven minutes into the third period … Ovechkin hit the ice with Artem Chubarov and Dmitry Afanasenkov. Afanasenkov carried the puck halfway into the Slovak zone and spun, flipping a blind pass into the slot. Ovechkin got there first. In an instant he shifted slightly to his left and then whipped a backhander past the Slovak goalie. Replays elicited oohs and aahs from the otherwise sedate crowd.”

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