By Adam Vingan
In the midst of Alex Ovechkin’s press conference regarding his three-game suspension Tuesday, an overzealous fan screamed at him from the top of the bleachers on the other side of the Washington Capitals’ practice rink at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“Hit ’em again, Ovi!,” screamed the fan, probably referring to the hit on Zbynek Michalek that led the NHL to discipline Ovechkin.
Ovechkin looked up, flashed his gap-toothed grin and responded to the assorted media standing around him.
“I will,” he said with a chuckle.
This was just one of a few quoteworthy quips that Ovechkin muttered during his five-minute explanation regarding his feelings on his suspension as well as his decision not to attend this weekend’s All-Star Game. In those five short minutes, Ovechkin expressed more disappointment in the league’s decision to suspend him than in himself for the offending hit that caused it, displaying a sense of immaturity that one would hope the 26-year-old would have outgrown by now.
Ovechkin did not take responsibility for his hit on Michalek, which saw him “launch himself” into Michalek, leaving his feet and making contact with Michalek’s head with his shoulder. Instead, he attempted to explain why it was not an illegal check, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
“I don’t think it was bad hit, a dirty hit,” Ovechkin said. “Yeah, I jumped, but he don’t get hurt and I don’t get two minutes. I don’t think it was a three-game suspension.”
Ovechkin contradicted himself, saying that the hit was neither “bad” nor “dirty,” but admitting that he jumped into Michalek, which is both bad and dirty. To be blunt, if the hit was neither of those things, Ovechkin would not be sitting out until February 4.
Ovechkin continued, blaming Michalek for ducking instead of standing up to the hit.
“I said target was not the head, the target was the body,” he said in regards to how he explained himself to NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan. “You can see [Michalek goes] down when I try to hit him. If he [stands] up and try to hit me back, maybe it is going to be a good hit. He didn’t and I am suspended and he’s not. Why he doesn’t get suspended is also questionable.”
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Michalek, who did not receive any supplementary discipline for his elbow on Matt Hendricks, admitted his mistake and said that he deserved punishment for it.
We obviously cannot read Ovechkin’s thoughts, but to the public, he made it abundantly clear that he felt as though he did nothing wrong. Having the staunch support of owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager George McPhee and head coach Dale Hunter definitely did not help matters.
Something else becoming abundantly clear is Shanahan’s decision-making process. While McPhee said he was “surprised and disappointed” in the NHL’s decision to suspend Ovechkin for three games, he also acknowledged the fact that “the league has done a good job of defining what we need to do” by eliminating the ambiguity of the rules in seasons past.
“We’ve come to a place where we think [the rules are] clearer,” McPhee said. “I think there was some gray in the past.”
McPhee brought up Ovechkin’s second suspension for boarding former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell in March 2010 as an example.
“The one in Chicago, [Ovechkin] outweighed the player by 50 pounds,” he said. “It’s not his fault and there was a lot of gray there. We’ve cleaned up the gray and it’s clear what we’re trying to do.”
McPhee may not have agreed with the league’s decision, but he did attempt to understand it, which is more than what can be said about Ovechkin.
There are much more important issues than the length of Ovechkin’s suspension and decision not to attend the All-Star Game as well as Michalek’s non-suspension. Ovechkin, whose prior history (a pair of two-game suspensions and two fines) came during the “gray” period that McPhee referred to, does not have the luxury of hiding behind vague rulings anymore. His actions were clearly wrong and that was made perfectly clear by Shanahan.
Ovechkin does not need to change his style of play; you cannot take the bull out of the china shop. Yet, he needs to be aware of the fact that what he did was wrong. Ovechkin proved Tuesday that he did not understand why he was suspended and that ignorance will likely cause Ovechkin to perform such illegal hits again.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In Ovechkin’s case, those who do not learn from prior history are doomed to be repeat offenders.