Near 8:00 Monday night we saw Alexander Ovechkin guided off the ice in Carolina by a team trainer and teammate Nicklas Backstrom, his head lowered, his injured leg unable to make contact with the ice, his body language broadcasting in neon a brutal battering. Upon the game’s conclusion, local media responded in a way never before seen for a fallen hockey player in this city, leading off broadcasts in funereal tones and prioritizing the story in ways historically associated exclusively for punter competitions at Redskins’ mini-camps.
Approximately 15 hours later the Gr8 was out on the ice at Kettler Capitals, skating in sweats. His coach in Monday night’s postgame rushed to his accused player’s defense, claiming that Ovi’s hit on Tim Gleason was initiated with a shoulder, having reviewed the replay, he said, some 20 times. Some 15 hours later the head coach, meeting local media out at the team’s practice facility, termed Ovi’s banishing action Monday “reckless.”
See any incongruity anywhere?
The league also chimed in on Tuesday, suspending the left wing for two games, as Ovi had earned game misconducts in two of his past three outings. The way this controversy has emerged, it sets up perfectly for the league’s highest profile media loudmouth to wax rabid on television this coming Saturday night.
In literary circles this narrative might be termed a potboiler — a tale hastily conceived and executed with commercial profits foremost in mind. Earlier this fall Ovi signed on with the global champions of sports personality marketing, IMG. It’s a firm renowned for being visionary and aggressive in its strategic branding. When word of the deal broke, I wondered: how might Ovi be re-launched under IMG’s auspices? I was pretty sure the firm wasn’t going to simply allow the dynamic winger to merely pile up goals this hockey season and issue a press release come spring saying, “Ain’t that just dandy?”
One idea that might have occurred to IMG brass would be to exploit Ovi’s on-ice aggressor activity. He doesn’t just hit, he hits hard, and often, and often ferociously, pummeling plexiglass in the process and intimidating some of the league’s largest bodies. Additionally, it might have occurred to the firm that the league’s preferred poster boy, Sidney Crosby, rarely wades into trouble waters out on the ice, and so establishing a clear antagonist to #87, the protagonist, with a Russian bad-guy motif might just catch a few outside-of-hockey eyes.
But I don’t want to sound conspiratorial.
Maybe our hero just heals up really, really fast. Heal up while on suspension and then back at . . . who knows what? Russian machine, never really breaking down, never backing down. Did you catch Ovi’s dictate of defiance out at Kettler yesterday?
“Why I have [to] listen somebody to say I have to change [my] game, somebody going to kill you. Nobody can kill me. Just play my game.”
Prior to his affiliation with IMG, how often did you hear Ovi utter the word “kill” in the context of playing hockey — in the context of anything?
Quite seriously, if I’m taken quite literally here some readers will accuse me of attacking the integrity of hockey. I don’t want that. And quite seriously, I’d be the last blogger in the blogosphere to suggest that Ovi would exaggerate an injury and depart his team early in a rivalry game. (To the extent that games in the Southeast can be termed ‘rivalry’ ones.) It’s just that the circumstances of the past few NHL days as they relate to Ovi have been rather extraordinary, and then there’s that IMG thingy, which has to be birthed at some point, and then there’s the longstanding Sid vs. Ovi storyline which you gotta admit does lend a rather convenient subtext upon which to craft a fresh, compelling narrative. Ovi will be gaining a much broader profile under IMG management under some clever marketing scheme, soon.
Wait, didn’t Don Koharski officiate in this league for a couple of decades, and didn’t the Chapter 11 Pens will the Sidney sweepstakes? Lemme get back to you on that conspiracy theory.
If IMG reps are reading, I say have Ovi’s next PR firm devised branding strategy involve a jilted Russian ex-girlfriend attack his sportscar with a hockey stick in the middle of the night.