Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the highly probable 2004 and 2005 first NHL overall Entry Draft picks, are both part of the 2004 WJC. Many fans were enthusiastic about their eventual first confrontation. However, they will have to wait because Russia and Canada were not in the same group, and Russia did not reach the finals.
The highly touted 18-year-old was expected to be the great star of this year World Junior edition. Every one had in mind his 14 goals – a record — scored two years ago at the U18 WJC and his two hat tricks of last year’s U20 WJC in Nova Scotia.
His totals for the 2004 WJC were 5 goals and 2 assists. “He was average,” observed Vladmir Yursivov of the Russian Sport-Express newspaper when asked to comment on Ovechkin performance. Another Russian observer stated that Dmitry Pestunov who centered Ovechkin’s line is not fit to play with the Moscow Dynamo superstar.
In action in Helsinki, Ovechkin worked very hard as usual, hitting opponents and doing his best on each presence on the ice. He used his exceptional acceleration and his powerful wrist shot. Even if his production was not as expected by some, still he demonstrated he is a wonderful hockey player. Maybe expectations were simply too high. Maybe he just didn’t have a good week which is not uncommon in sports.
On Ovechkin progression, Vladmir Yursivov was cautious when we talked to him in the Helsinki Arena Press Center on January 4th. “Ovechkin was recently a young boy, he is now a young man. The transition is not easy. It is not an easy period for him. We will have to wait a year or two before knowing what kind of player he is,” observed Yursinov.
But still every NHL scout questioned in Helsinki Arena last days stated that Ovechkin remains the obvious choice for the next NHL 2004 Entry Draft.
We were unable to get comments from Ovechkin about his performance in Finland. However, he told us previously last week that he is satisfied with the season he is having with Moscow Dynamo in the Superleague. “I hope I will be a better player, I take it game by game,” said Ovechkin. He added that his coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov — a former defenseman of Team Soviet Union — helps him a lot to develop himself as a better hockey player and that he tries not to disappoint him.
Could Ovechkin be ineligible to play next year in NHL because military service reasons as Russian Hockey Federation (RHF) pretends right now for Nikolai Zherdev? One Russian observer said that any issue is possible. It will depend of the next agreement between IIHF and NHL/NHLPA. As it is known, RHF is not satisfied of the amount of money Russian teams receive upon the actual terms of the agreement.
On Zherdev’s specific case, Ovechkin said that “if he’s telling the truth about the situation, then he was right to go to NHL,” adding “I’m not the judge”.
Before the final game of the tournament, Crosby’s has 2 goals and 3 assists. That places him sixth on the team scoring list.
He is playing on the fourth line and is often part of the first power play squad. In the whole, he does not get as much time as the members of the three other lines but he does not complain about it, recognizing he is a 16-year-old player.
Crosby is performing very well. He is among the leaders of his team for the shots on goal. He works hard as usual and sets brilliant passes. “Did you see the perfect pass he made for Canada’s third goal?” asked J.P. Parise after the semi-final game.
“He is improving game after game,” commented Coach Mario Durocher previously this week, adding that he is very satisfied of his contribution. “He is a very good guy and he doesn’t act like a star in the room even if the media are all after him,” said Maxime Talbot his teammate.
Marc-Andre Fleury commented similarly about his teammate, “He is a great player, a great kid too. He always plays well on the ice. He will be a very good hockey player.”
Said Crosby last week, “I feel more comfortable as the tournament progresses.”
During the second match opposing Canada to Czech Republic, we asked to Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe what he thought about Crosby. “Extraordinary,” he replied, adding his relatively small size won’t stop him from being a great professional hockey player.
We asked to Crosby before the tournament began if it was a dream come true having made the U20 Canadian roster at 16-year-old. “No, my dream is to win the gold,” answered promptly Crosby.
He may realize his dream later today as Canada takes on the USA in the finals.
Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002. At the 2003 WJC, he collaborated for the Montreal newspaper La Presse. This year, he is collaborating with Radio-Canada.