The Goal: Beat Ovechkin At His Own Game

Washington Capitals phenom Alexander Ovechkin, left, and writer David Betancourt face off in NHL 07. In back is Brian Metzger, the Caps' equipment assistant.
Washington Capitals phenom Alexander Ovechkin, left, and writer David Betancourt face off in NHL 07. In back is Brian Metzger, the Caps' equipment assistant. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2006

Alexander Ovechkin received one of sports' hot honors when EA Sports put him on the cover of its latest hockey game, NHL 07. He's the first Washington area pro athlete to be on the cover of any EA Sports game.

But despite his highlight-reel goals, the awards and the fact that Ovechkin has people talking about hockey in the football-crazed District, one question remained: Is he any good at the game? And was he up for a little competition?

The folks at EA Sports told me that Ovechkin got the hang of NHL 07 pretty quickly, even with changes in the controls that require more use of the two thumb sticks and not the controller's buttons. The Capitals' public relations department said the same thing.

"Alex says he's getting really good at the game," said Nate Ewell, who works for the PR department. "I told him there was a guy from The Post who wanted to play him in the game, and he says he's all for it."

When I arrive at Verizon Center to face off with him, Ovechkin is in a team meeting, which gives me time to hook up my Xbox 360 and, more important, get in more practice. While practicing, many spectators comment in amazement on the graphics in the game, which brings up conversations about the original "Blades of Steel" title (a classic) for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Visually, NHL 07 is one of the best next-generation console sports games out. From players' facial features to stick and puck movement to the lines made in the ice by the skates, the graphics and gameplay are extremely realistic.

As I continue to practice, Ovechkin walks in. After a handshake and a quick chat, I ask him what he thinks of NHL 07.

"Great game. I like it a lot," he says. But then, what else could he say?

We agree on a best-of-three format. The first two games he will play as himself and the Capitals, and I will play with the Phoenix Coyotes. The third game will be for national pride as I'll play with the U.S. national team and Ovechkin will take the Russian national team.

"Why Phoenix?" he asks.

I explain that the Coyotes were the team he scored his famous behind-the-back, no-look goal on in January and that I want to see if he had any more magic against them. That gets a laugh.

Before the game starts, he gives me some advice/trash talk.


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