- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER — While Sidney Crosby is certainly the face of the hockey tournament in Vancouver with his face all over the local news and his name stitched on the back on Canadian jerseys all around town, Alexander Ovechkin made his own statement in his late-night show Tuesday in Vancouver as the play opened in what Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said “could be the best hockey tournament of all time.”

Ovechkin, playing with four current and former Washington teammates with the Russians, scored a pair of goals and generated several good chances as his team grabbed an 8-2 win over Latvia to open their group play.

Relegated to the 9 p.m. local start time in the opening day of the men’s hockey tournament and with most of the local contingent hoping to see an upset by an underdog Latvian team skating just two NHL players, Ovechkin was able to strike twice to quell the upset chances.

In the first period’s final minute, Ovechkin converted a feed off a nifty steal by Capitals teammate Alexander Semin and Ovechkin blasted in his first goal of the tournament to give the Russians a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.

Then, after Latvia got some life early in the third and brought the crowd at Hockey Canada Place to life, Ovechkin quickly quashed the upset chances with his second, getting up from a spill in front of his bench and blasting a shot past Edgars Masalskis for a 5-1 lead that sealed the win for the Russians.

“Overall we had a good game,” Ovechkin told the press afterward. “I think we started well, and in the third period we just wanted the puck as much as possible.”

Russia is a strong challenger to Canada’s hopes for a gold medal, and also has a heavy Washington contingent, with current Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov joining Ovechkin and Semin, while two members of last year’s club, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, also skating for the Russians.

As for the host Canadians, no team in Vancouver is playing under more pressure than the Canadian men’s hockey team, with Crosby bearing the brunt of it in his first Olympic tournament.

If given the choice of one medal to capture at the games on their own soil, many Canadian fans would pick the men’s hockey medal, as evidenced by the numerous freshly minted maple leaf jerseys milling around downtown Vancouver before face-off, most without highly coveted tickets for the team’s opener against Norway but wanting to watch the game at a local bar or restaurant.

Facing a Norwegian team with just one NHL player and a country that hasn’t qualified for Olympics hockey tournament since 1994, the team left their fans a bit uneasy after 20 minutes, as they were scoreless despite the Canadians boasting a virtual All-Star team drawing from the deepest talent pool in the NHL.

But a goal early in the second period by 2002 Olympic hero Jarome Iginla sparked the home crowd and his team, as it opened the floodgates in an 8-0 Canadian victory, and one that left the home crowd busting into an impromptu version of “O Canada” after the final horn and celebrating in the streets late into the night.

“The crowd was great,” San Jose Sharks forward Dany Heatley said. “There was even more red and white than I imagined. It was a great atmosphere. They were loud, and they’re going to get louder — just like us.”

The United States also kicked off its tournament on a winning note, holding off a strong charge from another upstart team, the Swiss, and grabbing a 3-1 win to open their pool play.

“It was a good start,” American coach Ron Wilson told the press afterward. “Some of the younger players seemed a little tight and nervous.”

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