January 24, 2009
MONTREAL -- Unless you're one of those masochists who intends to savor every moment of the YoungStars Game, the trick-shot competition -- uh, we mean the "Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge" -- is the most highly anticipated eventof tonight's skills competition at Bell Centre.
It's Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, last year's winner, against a Crosby-less field of Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Alexei Kovalev of the hometown Montreal Canadiens.
Ovechkin -- who actually hit the town with Evgeni Malkin last night, according to a source -- has modestly predicted himself to finish last in the event. And hey, it could happen if the fans of the other competitors mobilize, as the winner of the Breakaway Challenge will be determined by a fan vote.
That would seem to heavily favor Kovalev, who will not only have the backing of fans watching in the all-star game's host city but the legions of Montreal Canadiens fans who stuffed the ballot box to get him into the game itself.
Kovalev, to his credit, understands he may have this thing won before even attempting a shot.
"It's not going to be fair, that's the way I look at it," he said. "Somebody said to me that 'you're going to win anyway.' You know what? I don't like that idea. You're playing in front of your home crowd, and people are going to choose you. But I like the fair competition."
Ovechkin respects his Eastern Conference all-star teammate's honorable approach to the event.
"It's fair enough. As Kovalev said: 'If I'm going to win, I'm going to win,'" he said,
All eyes are on Ovechkin, who had the competition's most outrageous attempt last season on a spin-o-rama. One whisper here in Montreal was that his attempt this year could involve multiple sticks, but it hasn't been confirmed.
Kane is looking forward to trying to work his own magic. "It's fun to be part of it, and I'll try to do whatever I can to bring the fans out of their seats," he said, adding that he's done some trick-shots in practice.
"Just a couple of ideas. Just fooling around, things like that. A few guys have given me ideas. If you guys have any ideas, I'll throw them in," he said to reporters yesterday.
Kane acknowledged that last year's competition was mucked up by prideful NHL goalies. "The goalies last year were coming off the hashmarks. They didn't want to get embarrassed with a move like ... say, Ovechkin bats that one in -- then the goalie's going to be on a lot of highlight films," he said.
That changes this season with the addition of a Junior B goalie from Montreal instead of the pros. Kane is pleased that that the League decided to go with a flesh and blood goalie instead of an empty net or a cardboard cutout. "I think it's better if it's a goalie. Makes it more real. For guys like us, it's a good thing it's a Junior B goalie. I guess he's not allowed to pokecheck, too. Which is good for us."
Kovalev said he hasn't practiced any moves. "I made my DVD a long time ago. I still remember the moves," he said.
The competition is an interesting one for the veteran, who said there is a certain amount of pride on the line. "One way, it's exciting, because you're doing it for the fans. At the same time, you think about not embarrassing yourself too much."
That pride will naturally carry over to a little friendly trash talk. "It's going to be in the locker room. Stuff you wouldn't want to hear," he said.
Well, not entirely in the locker room. As Kovalev said yesterday: "I'm not sure who's going to win, but I'll tell you one thing: Whatever Ovechkin did last year, it's not going to make him win [this year]."