Thomas Boswell: Alex Ovechkin's Critics Need to Cool Down

Alex Ovechkin pretends his stick is too hot after his 50th goal of the season.
Alex Ovechkin pretends his stick is too hot after his 50th goal of the season. (By Mike Carlson -- Associated Press)
By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let the Great Eight celebrate.

The last thing the NHL needs is to inhibit its most exciting star for the sake of maintaining the decorum that every other major sport abandoned 30 years ago.

That includes Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals' excellent but old-school coach who apparently paddled Alex Ovechkin in private yesterday, then said: "I've never seen him do a celebration like that. But I don't expect it to happen again."

If it does, just take a few deep breaths. Join the 21st century, or, for that matter, the last quarter of the 20th. Ovechkin doesn't need to stop his goal-glorifying antics, not even his controversial premeditated "hot-hot-hot stick" pantomime on Thursday night after scoring his 50th goal of the season.

The Caps superstar just needs to improve his act. A lot. Remember, the idea is for folks to laugh with you, not at you. In Tampa, Ovechkin looked like an old man bending over to pick up his cane.

After Chad Johnson or Deion Sanders scored, their end-zone pranks and dances never looked like geriatric calisthenics. Alex, contact the old Fun Bunch for concepts.

Goalie José Theodore had the original idea: Teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green would join Ovechkin. They'd pull their hands away from his stick, pretending it was too hot to touch. But when Ovechkin scored in the first period, they got old-school shy.

"Backie stopped and Greenie stopped, so I have to do it myself," Ovechkin said.

Memo to the Caps: If you instigate, then participate. Don't egg on your star and choreograph his shtick, then leave him hanging.

"He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I would join in on that," Green said. "I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does."

That's how powerful the NHL's conservative, self-effacing culture can be. Top players, and good coaches, get paralyzed at the mere thought of acting goofy or self-congratulatory. That's just not how it's done in Moose Jaw. Elk would blush. Migratory fowl might lose their bearing.

If Canadian TV commentator Don Cherry, rival star Sidney Crosby and the NHL's puck purists don't like Ovie's stick shtick -- and they already hate his spontaneous glass-smash leaps -- they can go watch black-and-white tapes of Rocket Richard.

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