'Ovechkin Project' stirs passions even before hitting bookstores

Dan Steinberg
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"The Ovechkin Project" - the first book-length look at Alex Ovechkin, advertised as "a behind-the-scenes look at hockey's most dangerous player" - is reaching Canadian bookstores this week, and will be on U.S. shelves soon thereafter. But while most U.S. readers - me included - have yet to read the book, it's already managed to create some measure of controversy, with one of its authors and Caps owner Ted Leonsis trading barbs on Twitter, in columns and in blogs.

That author, Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox, has turned radioactive to a great many Caps fans, especially after he accused parts of the Caps blogosphere of being mouthpieces for the front office. So I figured I'd turn to his co-author, longtime hockey writer Gare Joyce, to ask his impressions of Ovechkin.

"He's an evolving character," Joyce told me. "He's a young man. He's growing into a role that, physically, he's equipped for. Is he emotionally or psychologically equipped for it? I don't think it'd be reasonable to expect someone at 24 to be completely ready and equipped to be the franchise player, the star out in front of the league, the national hero, all of those things. There's a learning curve there, and he's handling it pretty well, with some slips, sure."

The recent publicity storm developed after Leonsis accused the authors of taking out their frustrations on the Caps franchise after not getting exclusive access to Ovechkin for their project.

Joyce disputed that point - he said the authors had the same access all credentialed media members did to Ovechkin, just not in one-on-one interviews - but he said the matter of access didn't color their opinions. But there seems to be a difference of opinion on this point.

"I guess the presumption would be that if we don't have access, we're gonna trash this guy, and I don't think we did that at all," said Joyce, who added that the organization was "great" to deal with. "I think he comes out as a sympathetic figure in a lot of ways, and someone who wants to do the right thing and has occasionally struggled to know what the right thing is."

"I read the galleys of the book, and I don't recognize the person who is being written about here," Leonsis said in a recent interview with Japers Rink Radio.

"And I cooperated with the writer, I sat for an interview, and I gave dozens and dozens of examples and stories and vignettes about my view of what Alex means to people, the community, how he acts. . . . I didn't think I was heard or what I said mattered, because it wasn't in the book. And so that's why I got turned off a bit."

Several people - including Leonsis - have suggested Ovechkin might one day put his name on an authorized biography that delves into his view of the world and his career. That book, though, won't likely arouse passions like this one has.

"We don't agree with his point of view in his book and we won't have anything to do with him and his book now," Leonsis wrote of Cox. "He is on his own."

"The only reaction we can have to that is hey, you didn't offer and we didn't ask," Joyce said.

"I could say safely that Damien and I were here a long time before Ted Leonsis was, and I think there's every shot that we'll be here a long time after Ted Leonsis is gone."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company