Washington Capitols' Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, arrives with two showgirls as he walks the red carpet at the National Hockey Legue awards in Las Vegas, Thursday, June 18 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Even though the NHL awards changed venues, the same man remained in the spotlight.
Alex Ovechkin captured the two most prestigious honours in hockey for the second straight season on Thursday, winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players' choice for the most outstanding player.
It was only fitting that the league's glitziest player be the centre of attention during a jazzed-up awards night.
Ovechkin came ready for the occasion, walking the red carpet at the Palms with a Vegas showgirl on each arm. He also boasted of winning US$500 while playing blackjack before the show got started.
"I have chips in my room in the safe," said Ovechkin. "Losing is not for me."
He hasn't done much of that during a splendid NHL career. The Washington Capitals sniper also took home another Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league with 56 goals.
After accepting the Hart from teammate Sergei Fedorov and Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Buble, Ovechkin stepped to the podium and indicated that he'd happily exchange all the hardware for a championship.
"Next year, Stanley Cup will be ours," said Ovechkin.
The Washington Capitals superstar was a runaway winner for the Hart, receiving 115 of 133 first-place votes to beat out Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk in an all-Russian group of finalists.
The international flavour prompted award presenter Glenn Anderson to quip that he thought he'd ended up in the wrong place - "down the road at the Russian awards."
He can't be blamed for feeling a bit disoriented. The NHL awards show was on the road in Las Vegas and ended up with more of a big-time feel than in years past when it was held in Toronto.
Everyone from singers Chaka Khan and Robin Thicke to film producer Jerry Bruckheimer made appearances on stage at the Pearl Concert Hall along with several former NHL greats.
It wasn't a flawless evening - several presenters stumbled over words and missed cues - but it was a good start for the first of three awards shows to be held in Sin City.
The night featured a parade of Boston Bruins to the podium.
Three members of that organization took home major honours. Zdeno Chara grabbed the Norris Trophy for top defenceman, Tim Thomas took the Vezina Trophy for top goaltender and Claude Julien claimed the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
The most emotional of them all was Thomas, a 35-year-old journeyman goaltender who was playing in Finland just four years ago. He got a little choked up during his acceptance speech and joked afterwards that he was a "sissy."
"I never really allowed myself to believe that I might win," said Thomas. "It seemed like such a far away dream when you look at the names on the Vezina Trophy. I've been more worried about getting my name on a roster."
Even though Datsyuk was a runner-up to Ovechkin for the Hart and Pearson, he managed to win both the Selke (top defensive forward) and Lady Byng (most gentlemanly) trophies for the second straight year.
The Detroit Red Wings centre is arguably the best two-way player in the game right now.
Another big winner was Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason, who took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He recently turned 21 and has been soaking up the Vegas experience.
"Time to celebrate," said Mason, who finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting.
Among the other awards handed out:
-Nashville Predators forward Steve Sullivan took home the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication.
-Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla won the Messier Leadership Award.
-Ethan Moreau of the Edmonton Oilers won the King Clancy for his charitable work.
-And, Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was voted fan favourite.
One of the best moments of the evening came when Gary Bettman presented Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau with a lifetime achievement award, calling him the "emblem of elegance and class."
The audience responded with a standing ovation.
There was also a nice ovation when cancer-stricken former coach Pat Burns presented the Jack Adams Award.
It could have been a magical evening for Malkin, who fell just short of completing one of the most successful seasons in NHL history. He won the regular season and playoff scoring titles, the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup.
He wasn't upset about seeing Ovechkin collect the two MVP awards.
"I try to win next year and after," said Malkin. "I have the big trophy so..."
Even though it was another great season for Ovechkin, this one was more trying than others. He missed two games in October so that he could return to Russia to visit his ailing grandfather, Nikolay Kabayev, who died a few weeks later.
That was on his mind throughout the season and even as he celebrated in Vegas.
"This year was especially hard," said Ovechkin. "This award I give it to him and all my family."
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