Thursday, September 10, 2009
When Alex Ovechkin climbed onto the Zamboni at the corner of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue Wednesday afternoon, I asked if he was nervous.
"A little," he said. "Probably I'm gonna break this car."
Then he put his foot down on what I assume was the gas pedal. The pedal came off, and wound up in his hand. He proudly showed it to the gathering crowd.
"I don't know, it's pretty old Zamboni," he said, after finding out he was riding on an '86 model. "Twenty-two year old Zamboni, are you kidding me?"
Drove like it, too. His top speed was well below that of the duck boat that cruised by on 46th as the senior-citizen passengers cast confused looks at the Zamboni below.
"I can't go faster because people was in front of me," Ovechkin later told a CTV crew. "If I go fast probably I go to jail and miss my training camp."
And then he rounded the corner, as New York's finest gave him a walking escort, and drove extremely slowly toward a mob of screaming fans, each of whom had a photographic device protruding from at least three limbs. There were children on father's shoulders, and there were squealing girls, and there were fans calling out in Russian. Inside the NHL Store -- where Ovechkin was coming for an event celebrating his face on the cover of NHL 2K10 -- there were Ovechkin mannequins, new Ovechkin T-shirts with his gap-toothed smile and more screaming fans.
"It happens every time," he said. "In Russia they just say hi, no one's bothering, no signatures. Here, more intense, more aggressive people for signature stuff."
Indeed, the aforementioned NYPD folks had a pretty stout job of it, beating back the hordes as Ovechkin signed autographs and posed for photos. Ovechkin's only been back in the country for a few days, but he's already predicting that his celebrity in the District will go to another level this year.
"It's gonna be sick; I mean, CRAZY," he said. "It's just the beginning, I think, because I'm only 23. It's gonna be a long way."
He said he wants to be better on the ice, and that he expects his team to be better. He said it took him two weeks to shake off last year's Game 7 loss to the Penguins. And does he still think of that game and that series?
"No, never," he said. "Why?"
Because it was amazing, I suggested.
"So it was amazing," he said. "It's history."
Still, he was most enthusiastic when talking about his upcoming training camp and meeting his new teammates. He misses D.C., he told me, he misses his car, and he misses hockey. He said Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup are equal goals, and he said he was jealous of the Penguins last spring.
"Good jealous, not bad jealous," he clarified. "It's just a good jealous, because I want to win. I don't like to see different guys, different players, different teams win the Stanley Cup, and we're not."
After we finished talking, Ovechkin bought an armful of Ovechkin T-shirts, left the store with a police escort and quickly attracted another mob of 40 people while he climbed into a limo. Like he told one of his many interviewers, "It's another good day to be Alex Ovechkin."