Review: The Ovechkin Project: A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Hockey’s Most Dangerous Player

cover of the book The Ovechkin Project

THE OVECHKIN PROJECT by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce is supposed to be “A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Hockey’s Most Dangerous Player.”

The book mainly focuses on the 2009-2010 season, perhaps the worst of Ovechkin’s career, featuring a stunning Olympic loss, a stunning Stanley Cup playoff loss, and a disappointing World Ice Hockey Championships loss.

The book is an interesting look at Ovechkin’s career, but Cox and Joyce write without any kind of hypothesis about who Ovechkin is or what drives him. Instead, they seem content to report out his quirks and inconsistencies without daring to suppose what’s behind them.

For instance, much is made of Ovechkin’s relationship with IMG, a prestigious international management group trying to move Ovechkin into the mainstream. But we never learn if Ovechkin yearns to be famous or rich, or if it’s simply the desire of his numerous handlers and hanger-ons.

We hear much about Ovechkin’s hands-on mother, Tatyana Ovechkina, but we never learn how Ovechkin feels about her or their relationship.

Cox and Joyce are unable to go very deep because Ovechkin did not speak to them for the book, but surely they could have found someone to speak to Ovechkin’s take on some of his life’s more important issues, like business and family.

As far as what Ovechkin wants out of his NHL career, he seems pretty set on winning, even as he’s struggled to find the professional success seen by peers like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. But again, we never really hear a theory of why Ovechkin hasn’t seen that kind of success, although a lot of the blame is placed on poor decisions by both the Capitals organization (the book does take some swipes at the Caps, but it also gives them a lot of credit for locking Ovechkin into a contract that looks more and more reasonable) and Russian Olympic hockey.

Russia vs. Czech Republic

Photo by s. yume

Cox and Joyce constantly compare Ovechkin to Crosby. Some of the comparisons are a bit outlandish: “…those who followed the game regarded Ovechkin as flashier and Crosby as sounder in the game’s fundamentals.” Obviously, Ovechkin is much flashier than the painfully dull Crosby, but Ovechkin has much more of a physical two-way game than Crosby, who’s often reluctant to put himself into corners and high-traffic areas. Ovechkin’s game is much sounder than Crosby’s.

Despite offhand slights like that, Cox and Joyce really do seem to think a lot of Ovechkin’s game and career. If Crosby seamlessly grew into an NHL role he was destined for, Ovechkin grabbed a role no one even knew was available.

As for my own theories on what drives Ovechkin, I think his is the typical immigrant story. He came to the United States looking to find something he couldn’t find in his native Russia: international fame and riches. He’s playing the most Canadian of games in the most American of cities, so of course he’s going to feel removed. Removed from his sport, removed from his peers, and even removed from himself.

It’s not surprising that Ovechkin would struggle while his North American peers thrive. Ovechkin is carrying a franchise while adjusting to a new way of life. It’s a lot for anyone to process, so of course there are going to be misfires. Cox and Joyce note how well Ovechkin rose to the occasion of captaining the Caps and it’s not surprising, given the C is a sign of acceptance, by both his team, its management, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the NHL.

Joyce told Dan Steinberg the book is meant to simply capture a specific moment in time:

It’s not gonna be the last word written on Alexander Ovechkin…We just wanted to show him at age 24. The last word that’s gonna be written about Alex Ovechkin, he’s gonna write it. It might not be the written word, but he’s going to author his career going forward. We’re trying to provide context for people that are going to want to watch him here on out.

THE OVECHKIN PROJECT does capture Ovechkin’s 2009-10 season, and some of his childhood, in a very interesting way. But if you’re looking for deep insights into what drives Ovechkin, you might be better off waiting for a project where Ovechkin gives access to the authors.