If Stalin were alive to discover that one of Russia’s biggest national icons in the 21st century was making his fame and fortune on enemy turf in the capitalistic United States, the communist dictator’s push broom moustache would undoubtedly turn grey.
But thankfully for professional hockey, the emergence of a new era of hockey players signified by the Washington Capitals’s Russian phenomenon Alexander Ovechkin and his Canadian rival and Pittsburgh Penguin, Sidney Crosby, means the NHL is maintaining its status as a sport of international acclaim.
Like the global economy, the professional sports industry is in recession. With a seemingly unending shadow of shame being cast upon Major League Baseball in the face of steroid abuse and the National Basketball League’s refereeing and game official fiasco, it seems there is an unprecedented amount of negativity surrounding the world of sports.
Luckily, professional hockey is at the top of its game right now — and not only in Canada but around the world, largely due to the intense contention for NHL superstardom between Crosby and Ovechkin.
Each match thus far of Crosby and Ovechkin’s second round clash in the post-season is reminiscent of the stardom a typical NHL all-star game is witness to — except the Penguins-Capitals matchup comes in the form of an epic a best of seven series instead of an afternoon exhibition.
The electrifying series has seen multiple overtimes, a seventh game and Crosby and Ovechkin continually pushing each other to the limit in numerous displays of offensive finesse. Game 2 was characterized by both Crosby and Ovechkin netting hat-tricks with goals that produced enough “oohs” and “aahs” to rival a nation of overdramatic soap-opera audiences.
At one point during the series, Ovechkin’s then seven goals against the Penguins nearly matched the entire Capitals roster’s number of goals, resting at eight. Ovechkin’s offensive rampage even earned him a death threat from an angry teenage Pennsylvania sports blogger posting on the Penguins’ official website. Heading into the final Game 7, Crosby is also scorching hot, with nine points in his last five games of the series. Syd’s not a kid anymore and neither is Ovechkin but both are quickly emerging as veterans of the game.
I have never liked Syd’s face posted on nearly every piece of marketable hockey merchandise available to the public or Ovie’s showboating goal celebrations. Yet it is impossible to deny the abundance of skill both these guys bring to the sport of hockey.
Only four years ago, North American hockey was an orphaned sport, left for dead by owners and the league during an NHL lockout. Now the NHL has managed to rebound and flourish thanks to the widespread hype Crosby and Ovechkin bring to Canada’s unofficial national pastime.
Outside the sphere of hockey, the Crosby-Ovechkin matchup is drawing such superstar rivalry comparisons of other eras and sports such as the Larry Byrd and Magic Johnson NBA rivalry of the 1970s. Contrasting Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in reference to Crosby and Ovechkin is another common hockey comparison that holds some merit but, for the moment, one that is premature and slightly far-fetched. Crosby and Ovechkin are dazzling players but to match them this early in their career with two of the greatest players the sport of hockey has ever seen is slightly ludicrous.
Who knows, though? Crosby and Ovechkin push themselves much harder against one another than Gretzky or Lemieux ever did, so room for future career greatness is definitely a possibility.