Alex Ovechkin of Russia celebrates after Evgeni Malkin scores a third period goal against the Czech Republic. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER – We’ve grown so accustomed to watching Alex Ovechkin change the complexion of games with highlight reel goals that perhaps it was too easy to forget that he has such an extensive bag of tricks that he can do it in a number of other ways, too.
But the sheer magnitude of Ovechkin’s crushing hit on Jaromir Jagr – both in terms of the physical impact and the effect it had on the game – was the primary topic of conversation after the Russians’ 4-2 win over the Czech Republic Sunday afternoon.
“If I will continue to comment on every move of Ovechkin,” said Russian coach Slava Bykov, “I will be talking for (another hour). It’s his style.”
There is no doubt it was an intriguing collision to say the least, with an undisputed Hall of Famer on the receiving end and a superstar on the giving end. The impact was so dramatic that it broke Jagr’s visor, but not his spirit, even after the turnover the hit created led to Evgeni Malkin’s second goal of the game, which turned out to be the game winner.
And it just goes to show Ovechkin has much more to his game than pure skill, although that will always be his calling card. Aside from being stopped on a breakaway early in the game, Ovechkin didn’t have much going. Instead of spending the game sulking that things weren’t going his way, Ovechkin instead chose to make another contribution, laying Jagr out right at center ice.
The hit, meanwhile, was clean as a whistle as far as these eyes were concerned, despite the fact Ovechkin did make contact with Jagr’s head. But the difference between that hit and many of the despicable headshots we’ve seen at almost every level of hockey was the intent. Ovechkin did not go hunting for Jagr’s head and Jagr wasn’t skating with his head down. He simply intended to make a big hit to separate his opponent from the puck and create momentum for his team, both of which he accomplished.
Jagr, though, showed some incredible mettle after the hit, returning stronger than ever on his next shift. He played extremely hard and with tons of passion at a time when he could have easily packed it in for the game.
“I don’t care how I feel,” Jagr said. “If I get hurt, it always heals. It just doesn’t look good.”
Responding to the observation that he seemed to play an even more inspired game after the hit, Jagr said, “I felt horrible. I felt like I couldn’t do anything.”
Could have fooled us. Any questions concerning Jagr’s desire to play or his ability to endure the grind of the NHL if he decides to come back next season were answered in a big way with his response to that hit.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, look back on the hit in what has become typical fashion for him. He answered two or three questions in Russian, then said, “That’s it,” before walking off. But the fact that the trappings of celebrity appear to be wearing him down and making him less media friendly with every passing day should not mitigate his breathtaking abilities and his explosiveness.
“It is just a moment,” Ovechkin said in Russian. “If I have the chance to hit somebody, it does not matter who it is.”
You can say that again. And you can also applaud Jagr for showing us an intestinal fortitude many people have thought he lacked. If this is indeed his swan song in North America, he will have left this part of the universe with his head held high.
Even if it hurts like the dickens right now.
With the win, the Russians took first place in Group B and avoided having to play a qualification game prior to the quarterfinals. The Czechs fell to second in that group.
Ken Campbell is in Vancouver covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for THN.com. Read his other reports HERE.
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