I’ve been engaging in a love-hate battle all season. And it all centers around one player. I hate that he’s harbored a feud with one of my favorite players for most of the season. I hate that he’s so cocky in interviews and swaggers, even on the ice. I hate that I can’t take my eyes off him when he plays. And I hate that however hard I try, I am falling hard for Alexander Ovechkin.
I admit wanting to smack him every time he targeted Evgeni Malkin like a rogue bludger whenever the Caps played the Pens. But even then, when Ovie had the puck, everything else disappeared. I’d watch him zig and zag and half-wish he’d miss the net and half-wish he’d score (yes, even against my own team!). Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Geno. I could watch him skate for days. He is so smooth and so deceptive. One second he’s back in the Pens’ end. Blink, and he’s scoring. He is that amazing a skater. Watch him and tell me he doesn’t resemble a shark (the animal not the team), circling until he nabs his prey.
I would have to say that right now, Ovie and Geno are my two favorite players, although others are in contention. And as I watch, compare and contrast these two, I find that they remind me of two other Russian rivals back in the 80’s. Not hockey players, but ballet dancers.
Ah… those two words have no doubt turned a good many of you away. Ballet? Su is going to compare these hockey studs to ballet dancers? Well, hear me out. Then you can one-puck me to your icy hearts’ delight.
Where was I? Oh yes, ballet.
Well, here’s where I’m coming from. In one corner, you have Alexander Ovechkin; flashy and brilliant, possessing a personality that transcends hockey. He has a band. He has a clothing line. He is charming, ready with a practical joke. He is exuberant on the ice, celebrating goals by throwing himself joyously into the glass, hugging his teammates and inviting the crowd to celebrate with him. He seems easily accessible, living the ultimate American Dream.
In the other corner, you have Evgeni Malkin. Tall and intense, powerful on the ice, yet reticent off of it. Only this season has he started giving interviews in English, possibly feeling that it’s part of the responsibility that comes with wearing an “A” on his jersey. He has quietly amassed the most points in the NHL, but remains pretty unassuming. He will celebrate the occasional goal by throwing himself into the glass, but Geno’s act is more intense, less the joyous flair that Ovie possesses. He didn’t even fight back when Ovie targeted him repeatedly, shrugging off the unusual attention, only allowing that it’s a “personal” matter.
So what does this have to do with ballet?
I look at Ovechkin and I see Mikhail Baryshnikov. Remember him? He exploded onto the American ballet scene in the 70’s. He was flashy and brilliant, possessing a personality that transcends ballet. He successfully transitioned from ballet to the big screen, and made several movies with varying levels of success; the most notable being “White Nights” with Gregory Hines. I don’t know whether Baryshnikov had his own clothing line but it wouldn’t surprise me. He continued to straddle both ballet and entertainment, most recently showing up as an alternate love interest for Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex in the City.”
I look at Malkin and I see Alexander Godunov. Tall and intense, powerful on the dance floor, yet reticent off of it. His defection caused an international incident between the US and USSR. (Malkin’s road from the Russian league to the Penguins also involved a little bit of controversy) Only later in his career did Godunov open up and give interviews. He also dabbled in film, yet with the exception of “The Money Pit” , in which he played a conductor who was trying to get his ex back from Tom Hanks, he played roles that involved more brawn than brain (“Die Hard”, anyone?) In his personal life, he was unassuming. He never acknowledged the feud that built up with Baryshnikov. In fact, he took his side of that feud to the grave with him.
I think I see more of Godunov in Malkin, mostly because I knew Alexander Godunov. I worked for him in the 80’s. He was intense, yet sweet. He didn’t know the ins and outs of Hollywood yet and threw himself 100% into every project that came his way, whether they involved dance or not. I look at Malkin and I see someone who seems intense, yet sweet, someone who hasn’t really learned the ins and outs of pro hockey and all it takes to play in and represent the NHL.
I do see a lot of Baryshnikov in Ovechkin. Ovie is well on his way to becoming one of the greats of the game. He is exciting to watch. You grow to love him, in spite of yourself. Whether you follow the Capitals or not, he is a player you cannot ignore. Baryshnikov was the same way in the 70’s and 80’s. I found myself attending the ballet to watch him in action and I am not really a ballet type. But that’s how exciting he was.
As I watched the feud between Ovie and Geno grow, I was drawn back to the 80’s and the feud between Baryshnikov and Godunov. There was no reason for Mikhail and Alexander to fight. They were two totally different types of dancers; each with their congregation of fans. Was it something personal? Until Baryshnikov decides to spill the beans, we’ll never know. Alexander Godunov died in 1995, and like I said, took his part of the feud to the grave with him.
When I saw Ovie and Geno team up at the NHL All Star Game, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I read in interviews that they have decided to bury the hatchet, even though they will continue to push each other on the ice. That’s good. They should push each other to be even better than they already are. They are two of the most dynamic players out there right now and the future can only get brighter for them, if they stay focused on their game, and leave the past in the past.