REVIEW: ‘The Ovechkin Project’ is All Bark, Occasional Bite

Few names in the hockey world spark more discussion, emotion and controversy than the otherworldly talented Alexander Ovechkin. Few names in the hockey writing world spark more controversy and debate, for better or worse, than Toronto Star writer Damien Cox. So, along with ESPN writer Gare Joyce, it makes sense for Cox – who last penned a fairly inoffensive, interesting, well-written biography of Martin Brodeur – to take his talents to writing about The Great 8.

Couple that with months of lead-up, including a furious, immature debate between Cox and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis about the contents of the book, and you have what could be the most controversial hockey book since … has there been one before? The fact is, most hockey biographies are either sold on compelling writing (The Game) or the personalities they cover (every other hockey bio ever). There hasn’t been one with this kind of lead-up in the genre. This is something that’s good for the game. Not every hockey book should be all sunshine and butterflies.

Where The Ovechkin Project disappoints is that it fails to provide much controversy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an ably written hockey book, chronicling one of the most exciting talents in the game at the biggest crossroads of his career. It’s a book that deserves to exist just as that. However, one can’t feel a little bit disappointed after all the dispute and name-calling between a billionaire owner and a well-off columnist and the person who comes off worst in the book is … Ovechkin’s mother.

Other than Tatiana Ovechkina, who is often portrayed as the ultimate stage mom, everyone is given a pretty fair shake, and as my dad points out, you’re not really a stage mom if your child is actually talented. While Ted Leonsis is noted for some of the mistakes he’s made, but well, those mistakes happened, and I’m sure Leonsis has made his peace with them now that he’s where he is now. As for Ovechkin, well … other than some disputes with his agent, he’s seen as the free-wheeling, fun-loving, benevolent millionaire you imagine him to be.

Let’s take a look at what the book does right. There is some well-written, insider info on the history of Russian hockey players making it to America that I’d certainly never read before. Learning about Ovechkin’s boyhood and tragic loss at a young age is a good story, and the re-telling of Jagrgate and the history of the Capitals is a fun one. These parts of the book are all well researched, well-written and certainly worth a look at.

However, the book often has trouble defining what it wants to be. Is it an intimate look at Ovechkin’s life? Sometimes. Is it a history of hockey in Washington? Sometimes. Is it a look back and look ahead at Russian-North American hockey relations? A little bit. Is it the look at the marketing of the modern NHL superstar? Not enough. These are all individual books that’d be a great read on their own, but when trying to tell the full story of Ovechkin, they tend to seem like padding. When The Ovechkin Project is on topic, it can be surprisingly candid and sharply written. However, the book is often like Ovie himself: skating around wildly with great success at times, but just not reaching the ultimate goal.

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