Ovechkin's Historical Significance And Dirty Play

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NHL fans and the hockey media need to accept that one of the biggest superstars in the game is a dirty player.  Yes, he's gregarious and yes, he plays hard, and yes, he might just be "reckless" as many have suggested, but in the end, Alex Ovechkin is a dirty player.  His history of knee-on-knee hits alone is Bryan Marchment-like and his collection of boarding penalties are something out of Matt Cooke's book.

That he's a dirty player does not mean he's not a superstar, and it shouldn't preclude the typical media and fan worship that comes with superstar status.  After all, the NHL has a history of dirty superstars from Gordie Howe to Mark Messier and many in between - and the league has had the ugly face of hockey front-and-center for years as the game's luminaries have been involved in ugly incidents for as long as the NHL has existed.

The great Rocket Richard is always associated with the Richard Riot, but well before that he was a violent player prone to fits of rage that usually ended in an injury to his opponents.  He was a supremely talented player that was chased, shadowed, harassed, hit, held and slashed, but that didn't excuse the fact that he had no quarter for the opponent and often showed it by using his stick to carve their face like a sunday roast.  He drew blood nearly as often as he tickled the twine.

Although he wasn't the original dirty hockey player, at the time Gordie Howe was the most talented dirty hockey player even to lace up the skates.  To Red Wing fans and the NHL, he was "Mr. Hockey", but to the rest of the league he was "Mr. Elbows".  The running joke at the time was that "while the equipment man sharpened his skates, Gordie sharpened his elbows."  Even the Red Wings team page lauds Gordie Howe's "razor sharp elbows" as if it was somehow a good thing.  Howe sent many players to the locker room with high, dirty elbows to the head and beyond that he was well-known for his hits from behind.

Prior to Ovechkin, the most recent example of a dirty superstar was Edmonton's Mark Messier.  Messier was known for more than just his leadership and his Stanley Cups -- throughout his career he took cheap shots at people with his stick, his skates, his elbows and his fists and sent many men to the injured reserve.  Like Richard, he had a penchant for stickwork, and like Howe, he wasn't afraid to attempt to injure someone with an elbow.

So, in reality, Ovechkin keeps very good company with these all-time greats - he's a generational talent with an intent to injure.  Judging by the past, the NHL, the media and fans will sweep it all under the rug and continue to praise Ovechkin as one of the best in the game, so let's just get on with it.  He's dirty, but it doesn't matter because he's good.

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