Sid vs. Ovi – Natural Born Rivals
by Andrew Podnieks
McClelland & Stewart
Softcover$19.99 US $22.00 CDN
Debates to determine the best performer in any popular endeavor have been fueling schoolyard and water cooler arguments for as long as there has been an entertainment industry. Usually there is a significant stylistic difference between the choices being promoted, one being more palatable to the established order of things while the other represents change or a challenge to the traditional.
The professional sports world is, and always has been, a slice of the show business world. While teenaged music appreciators were discussing the relative merits of Elvis Presley and Pat Boone, baseball fans of all ages argued endlessly over whether Willie, Mickey or The Duke was the ultimate outfielder and recess skirmishes were fought by proxy across Canada in hockey’s great Howe-Richard debate.
Fast-forwarding to the contemporary era, the hockey players featured in the same discussions are Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Sid vs Ovi – Natural Born Rivals, the most recent release by Andrew Podnieks, examines the rivalry between the two, both determined from an early age to be the best player in the game, but taking different approaches to the trip to the top.
With both kids labelled as “can’t miss” prospects, the rivalry between them – built and maintained by a sporting media that is voracious in its appetite for content – was well underway before either took their first strides on NHL ice in 2005.
Bringing his narrative up to the present day, Podnieks chronicles the triumphs and disappointment of each on the way to the big time, through junior challenges to their NHL rookie campaigns in 2005-06 and on to other spotlight events such as Olympic competition and All-Star games, paying particular attention to the times the two went head-to-head both on the ice and in competition for silverware and other honors.
It comes across as a neck-and-neck race with the polite, almost retiring, team oriented Crosby and outgoing, individualistic, scoring machine Ovechkin piling up accomplishments, topping each other in much the same way that sandlot ballplayers work their hands up a bat to determine who picks first when choosing up sides.
Ovechkin captured the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in their initial NHL campaign while Crosby took home the Hart, Ross and Pearson Trophies the next spring. In 2007-08 Ovechkin did his opponent one better in the individual honors department. Awarded the same three trophies as Crosby had been a year earlier, he added the newly-created Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer. Crosby covered the knob in 2008-09, leading his Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup, a feat that Ovechkin has yet to match as a member of the Washington Capitals. Neither has he been able to capture Olympic gold.
By the time Podnieks has finished some 300 pages later, many devoted to an almost shift-by-shift recounting of their on-ice confrontations or quotes from the many interviews they were subjected to over the years., readers may not have had their opinions changed but will come away with a lot more ammunition for the side of the argument that they support.
Given a choice of whom they’d rather see their daughter date, most parents will still vote for Crosby who gives every impression that he’d have her home unsullied by 10 PM since he has to hit the hay by 11:00. Ovechkin, on the other hand, might just turn up to collect her at ten o’clock and there’s no telling when she’d be back.
Their sons would almost certainly much rather go clubbing with Ovi, who attacks that pastime with the same enthusiasm he launches himself towards an enemy or his net.