Ovechkin's goal celebration: The battle lines have been drawn

If Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau has his way, last night will be the first and last time we see Alexander Ovechkin engage in a premeditated, theatrical goal celebration. From Capitals Insider, who spoke with Boudreau.

"We had a little talk," he said. "I won't say what we talked about, but we talked."

After a pause, Boudreau added: "It's the first and only time I've seen that happen in all the time I've been watching Alex. I've never seen him do a celebration like that. But I don't expect it to happen again."

Ovechkin claims he didn't mean any disrespect by his actions, and I believe him. If he wants to taunt, he'll taunt; mouthing off on the ice or skating past the opposing team's bench.

Forget for a moment that the Tampa Bay Lightning probably mean about as much to Ovechkin this season as the Country Music Awards; the point is that his goal celebrations, staged or spontaneous, are about capturing that euphoric moment for himself and his linemates. It's an ego trip; any offense taken is in the eye of the beholder, because none is intended.

Of course, when you're Alex Ovechkin, you've got a lot of eyes beholding you. And within hours of his highlight-reel "fire stick" celebration against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the criticism and defense of his actions are all over the map.

The Lightning were first out of the gate in slamming Ovechkin. Beat writer Damian Cristodero asks his St. Pete Times readership if Ovechkin is "enthusiastic or just a jerk," and offers this quote from Bolts goalie Mike McKenna:

"It's not something I've never seen on the NHL level," McKenna said. "I'm a traditionalist when it comes to hockey. I appreciate guys who play the game hard and are humble. Alex is always exciting to watch and he's great for the game, but it's not something I would have done. When I saved his breakaway I could have done a spin move or something, but I didn't."

Touché, good sir.

Jeff Marek of Hockey Night in Canada Radio didn't like Ovie's routine because ... well, because he ripped it off another player -- and it might be Jose Theodore's fault for helping to conceive it.

Mike Brophy of Sportsnet is factually incorrect that the celebration wasn't planned out, but makes the point about where the line is for him on this issue:

Wasn't it kind of funny when Tiger Williams (and later Tie Domi) used to ride their stick up the middle of the rink after scoring a goal?

Wayne Gretzky used to do the arm pump, although that can hardly be considered excessive. Many players now drop down to one knee with the Gretzky arm pump thrown in for good measure after scoring a goal.

Hey, as long as I don't see a Sharpie being pulled out of a shin pad, a little post-goal celebration shouldn't set the game back 20 years. Game-winning goals, overtime goals, series-winning goals, Stanley Cup winning goals, and yes, 50th goals of the season are all worthy of a little extra hoopla.

Our buddy Ryan Kennedy of THN is of much the same mind:

From Theo Fleury's playoff slide to Teemu Selanne's duck hunt routine when he broke Mike Bossy's rookie goals record in 1993. That flavor gave us the enduring images that are till shown on broadcasts to this day.

Hot dogging? Whatever. Ovechkin's job is to score goals. Let's worry about showboating when John Erskine pulls his jersey over his head or Sammy Pahlsson sticks his arms out like an airplane after scoring.

Did Teemu plan the duck-hunting? We're holding out for the Kyle Wellwood triple axel, sending a crack in the ice through the neutral zone.

Interesting that the reaction from Capitals fans has been, by and large, a feeling that Ovechkin crossed the line last night. Particularly, from our buddy JP of Japers' Rink:

Maybe it's March Madness or maybe it's seeing Rick Tocchet behind the Tampa bench last night, but I'm in the mood to make a bet - $10 says Don Cherry leads Coach's Corner on Saturday night with "Mike Green's injury was the hockey gods paying back the Capitals for Alexander Ovechkin's ridiculous celebration." And he'll be half-right - the celebration was silly and unsportsmanlike, even if it was simply taunting an old man a couple thousand miles away. Was that AO or TO? Or Jimi? Should we just start calling him "Ocho"?

The Peerless Prognosticator was disappointed within the context of the previous criticism from Cherry:

The one thing about Ovechkin's goal celebrations - those resulting from his own and from teammates' goals - has been their air of spontaneity. It is what sets his apart from those of touchdown-scorers and sack-masters in the NFL, where everything looks choreographed. They are even different from those in the soccer celebrations Don Cherry famously compared Ovechkin to in that the soccer celebrations have more than their own whiff of shirt discarding choreography to them.

That's what makes this so disappointing. Ovechkin had been - to this moment - unique, despite Cherry's rantings.

Excellent point and, perhaps, the most damning thing you can say about Ovechkin last night: The free spirit whose joy was genuine and unfiltered became, at least for one game and one goal, a calculating sports celebrity, self-promoting in a way that would make Sean Avery blush.

Maybe Alex doesn't understand or care about this, but Cherry set him up for a backlash and last night turned the key in the ignition.

But what this all returns to is: What's wrong with a little self-promotion?

What's wrong with enthusiasm in the NHL, canned as it was, getting shown on every sports highlight show in North America last night? There was a time when the same thing would happen, but it was Chris Simon or Todd Bertuzzi attempting to maim or cripple someone rather than Ovechkin warming his mittens over faux fire. Isn't this a little better for hockey?

It's not hard to see the battle lines drawn here. They're generational. They're geographic. They're ethnic (in some unfortunate cases).

They separate those who played in the NHL, and those who covered the NHL via traditional media, from the fans and the new media hockey writers who dig this stuff.

They divide those who believe the very foundations of hockey tradition are being shaken by this sort of stunt and those who believe the only thing that can solidify those foundations for decades to come is for the sport to evolve from its sometimes stuffy, over-sentimental outrage over grandstanding.

As an admitted non-hockey fan said to me this morning: "I think that kind of [stuff] is great for hockey. At least if hockey wants people like me to care."

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