Monday, January 26, 2009


In 1950, Miles Davis released “Birth of the Cool,” perhaps the breakthrough work in the history of contemporary jazz.

This past weekend, the National Hockey League might finally have had its “Birth of the Cool” moment. We are not generally a fan of the all-star format, but there was one player who transcended the event. The combination of his skill, personality, quirky telegenic quality, flair for dramatic timing, and shrewd ability to connect with media combined to make Alex Ovechkin the very definition of “cool.”

It’s something Washington Capitals fans – and hockey fans in general – have suspected for some time. But this weekend he had a larger stage on which to perform, and perform is just what he did. Alex Kovalev won the MVP award, Evgeni Malkin had arguably the signature goal of the game. But sports fans got the full Ovechkin for the weekend – making himself available for every interview possible, dominating the skills competition portion of the weekend with his enlistment of props and a formerly hated rival, netting a goal and a pair of assists in the game itself, scoring the clincher in the shootout competition to determine the winner of the All-Star Game. Ovechkin is what fans will remember.

It is almost cliché at this point to remark that perhaps no athlete on the planet looks like they’re having as much fun doing what they do than Ovechkin. But more than that, he serves as the ultimate example of being comfortable living in the skin of the supremely talented athlete. This might be the biggest difference between Ovechkin and his chief competitor for “best hockey player on earth,” Sidney Crosby. Crosby, who has been touted as the greatest player since Gretzky since childhood, seems to have slipped – through no fault of his own – into a sort of athletic “nerdishness” as counterpoint to Ovechkin’s “cool.” Where Ovechkin seems to be having a blast just being “Ovechkin,” Crosby almost looks uncomfortable being “Crosby” at times, as if the suit doesn’t quite fit right. Crosby’s absence from the on-ice portion of the weekend’s festivities also conspired to permit Ovechkin to crash through the window of opportunity presented by having the stage more or less to himself in this player-versus-player competition.

And, as if channeling the music in the Davis album – one noted for the brevity of the individual pieces – Ovechkin works his magic in the short 60-second bursts of his shifts on ice or in the interviews that accompany his visits to rinks across North America. In a way, every game is an album comprised of the individual pieces of his memorable, bring-the-fans-out-of-their-seats shifts.

An opportunity has been presented to the National Hockey League. There is a web site – The Science of the Time/The Science of Cool. Its director, Carl Rohde, defines “cool” as “nothing that's painfully hip…Cool for us is that something must be attractive and inspiring, with future growth potential." What exemplifies that definition of “cool” more than Alex Ovechkin?


Shaggy said...

Crosby should get hurt more often - hey, who said that?

This was the second straight year Crosby missed the ASG with an injury - it was blessing to not have to hear the perfunctory blather about the Messiah.

this space for rent said...

I got my fill of nattering about the Messiah last week. :)

AHL All-Star Game is on Center Ice tonight. Boston tomorrow - Boston worries me. This is their house, and we have issues to work out, on special teams especially. Let's hope Bruce can iron those out in practice today.

HHH said...

"Birth of the Cool" was the most important work in the cool/West Coast jazz movement, but I wouldn't call it the breakthrough work in contemporary jazz. Hell, it's not even Miles Davis's best or most influential album. I agree with everything else though.