Sid/Ovie (Part Two)

Part One was published on Thursday, March 17.

Canada won fifteen of the first eighteen World Championships by sending undistinguished amateur teams overseas to participate in a tournament Canadians considered an afterthought. The players were working men with no NHL aspirations, the Trail Smoke Eaters and the East York Lyndhursts, and they found the trips abroad punitive because they had to pay their way and play forty exhibition games in addition to the championship tournament. In 1954, eight years after taking up hockey, the Soviet Union played in its first World Championship and defeated the Lyndhursts 7-2 in a final played outdoors in Stockholm. The Canadians were shocked. Conn Smythe said that his Maple Leafs were “prepared to go to Russia immediately . . . we’re only interested in one thing—to keep the old flag flying.”

The next year, Canada sent a senior team that handled the Soviets roughly and beat them 5-0. The Soviets’ star said: “They are different from us, too tough and, let’s admit it, awfully good.” The head of the Soviet delegation said: “Above all, our players have to learn how to play physically tougher.” The president of the Canadian team said: “We made them look like a bunch of ham and eggs. Those guys quit cold.”

Tarasov brought over a team of Soviets to play a series of exhibitions against Canadian amateurs in 1958. He was shown little respect. He wrote: “You [Canadians] came to my practices and I went to yours, but there was a difference. You watched for five or ten minutes, and laughed at me and my players. Then everyone left. I sat through your practices bewitched. I’ve never written so much so fast. It pleased me that you laughed at us. Either you were too smug and didn’t care, or you didn’t understand what kind of hockey we were playing.” Tarasov believed that the Canadians wouldn’t respect his teams or his hockey until he beat their best, the professionals of the NHL. He thought his hockey, which seemed so unnatural to Canadians, would at the very least challenge them. “It is like biology,” he said. “When a strong tree gets lonely, it dies. So it is with your NHL players. They have no opponents, so they get no stronger.”

The Soviet Union won only one more World Championship before 1963. Between 1963 and 1990, it won twenty of twenty-five. The Soviets won gold at the Winter Olympic Games of 1956, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, and 1992. They won playing Soviet hockey as defined by Tarasov: “Hockey does not boil down to getting past a player. Hockey is much more complicated and interesting—it includes passing, teamwork both in attack and in defense: it is offering oneself and letting out into an open space. Teamwork, not only individual play, decides the game. Teamwork always gets the upper hand over individuals, even the most talented and skilled players.”


The USSR had twice the landmass of Canada and ten times its citizenry, but only half of Soviets experienced winters cold enough for hockey. Fewer still lived in or around major cities that had sports schools. The USSR comprised fifteen nations, but only six contributed to its hockey team. Of the approximately 304 players to have represented the Soviet Union, 276 came from Russia, nine came from Latvia, six came from the Ukraine, six came from Belarus, five came from Kazakhstan, and one came from Lithuania. Fifty-three percent of the Russian players came from one city, Moscow. Five percent came from the four-fifths of the country east of the Ural Mountains. There were fewer indoor ice rinks in all of the former Soviet Union than there were in Saskatchewan.


Five minutes into the second period, Washington ties the game off of a penalty drawn by Ovechkin. He plays high on the point on the power play, so Pittsburgh’s coach designated a player to shadow him and take away his shot. The other four Capitals overwhelm the understaffed Penguins in front of the net and jam home the puck. Ovechkin, howling, jumps onto his teammates’ shoulders.


The NHL had no centralized junior system prior to the first amateur draft in 1963. As Tarasov said, ice hockey “was planted, as if by a careful plowman, throughout the country.” Hockey players weren’t fabricated but foraged. NHL teams had fifty-mile territorial monopolies on talent, as well as their own partition of Canada. Children as young as 13 or 14 signed sponsorship forms—“A” form for a tryout, “C” form for committed professional rights—and if they proved themselves in the disparate minor leagues, they became NHLers.

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Brian Conacher said of this system: “Over the years, [Canadian] hockey has really evolved on natural ability as opposed to a preconceived system. In the years between 12 and 17, when a boy can be taught to play any way a good coach would want him to, most Canadian boys are just playing a totally undisciplined style of hockey, with natural ability being the basic ingredient, not acquired basic skills.”


On August 7, 1987, Sidney Patrick Crosby was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, though his real home was the unincorporated village of Cole Harbor. His father, Troy, was a minor-league goaltender whose career crowned when he stopped two Mario Lemieux breakaways on the same shift in junior hockey in 1984. That year he was drafted 240th, tenth from last.

Crosby started skating at two-and-a-half years old. He loved to knock a puck around in the family basement, where his father tended goal until he turned 8 and developed the strength to lift the puck. Then he shot pucks into an open dryer. (When he appeared on the “Tonight Show” a decade later and Jay Leno brought a dryer on stage, Crosby missed his first three shots but made his next two.) In Timbits hockey, he was a five-year-old competing against seven-year-olds; in Midgets, he was a fourteen-year-old competing against sixteen-year-olds; he was the only minor on Canada’s 2004 World Junior Championship team, and when he scored for his country at that tournament he was the youngest ever to do so.

Crosby started working with a personal trainer at the age of 13. His trainer took him away from the ice three times each day, teaching him how to move his body correctly, with economy and power. “For him, it would have been unacceptable to do anything less,” his trainer said of him. “When he wasn’t playing hockey, he was playing hockey.” Crosby still trains with him over the two months that separate one extended professional hockey season from the next.

Crosby kept this Oliver Wendell Holmes quote framed on his childhood bedroom wall: “Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” His parents took second jobs to buy him the best equipment. Trips to his tournaments doubled as their vacations. After games and practices, Crosby’s mother left his hockey gear to steam in the open air outside their house; she was forbidden from washing it because he loved the smell.


Crosby had been known as the “Next One” since Wayne Gretzky watched him nearly break his junior hockey records and said that he was the best player he had seen since Mario Lemieux. In 2005, Lemieux was the NHL’s only player-owner, and when his team, which had gone bankrupt in 1998 and was for sale at the time, won the draft lottery held after the lockout, he selected Sidney Crosby first overall.

Gretzky was from Brantford, Ontario, and never fully embraced by French Canadians, who hold up francophone Mario Lemieux as the most transcendent hockey player of all time. When Crosby played for Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he learned French and spoke it during his media appearances because, he said, he wanted to be for all of Canada. Posters of Lemieux papered his bedroom. After he was drafted by the man to save his franchise, Crosby lived on the third floor of Lemieux’s house in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley. He was not allowed to have girls stay over. He played street hockey in the driveway with Lemieux’s children and ate dinner with them every night. If he performed well following the meal, Lemieux’s wife would make it again the next day. Crosby kept his paychecks in his sock drawer. He signed endorsement deals with Reebok, Gatorade, and Dempster’s, which makes white bread.


Crosby is sent out on the very next shift, his twelfth. His coach has double-shifted him on the second line. Washington ices the fourth line that has stifled him. They have an unexpected odd-man rush for a moment, but Crosby and his winger chase them down the length of the rink, compacting their time and options. All they muster is a weak shot from a bad angle.

Crosby is well above average defensively. He would be forgiven if he foisted his responsibilities on his wingers—both of whom are undersized, undrafted muckers ferociously loyal to him—because he generates 63 percent of Pittsburgh’s offense. But he hustles all over the ice. His defense isn’t perfunctory. He is just as important to his team in their own end. He is almost never in the wrong position, and he closes lanes with a stick that is active, brilliant.

Since entering the NHL, Crosby has incorporated all facets of the game at an alarming rate. He was once one of the worst in the league at faceoffs; he’s now one of the best. His defense was subpar; now it’s so good that his coach is unafraid to match him against other teams’ scorers. His shot was weak; he now deflects pucks into the net with the precision of an industrial robot. Because he is so bland and dispassionate, this exponential progress strikes some as sinister; it seems like self-aware artificial intelligence. “Crosby sucks” is chanted in Philadelphia, Washington, and New York even when those teams aren’t playing Pittsburgh. Most everywhere else he is simply booed. Being so young, so good, and so equanimous has made it difficult for Crosby to appear fully human.

After the Capitals’ shot, Crosby skates for the front of his net. One of his defenseman chases the puckcarrier behind it, while the other defenseman is lost to the play on the weak side. Two Capitals move into the soft ice in front for what looks to be an easy score. It is Crosby defending one passing lane with his skate blades and deflecting the puck off course of the other who saves a goal. When he sees the puck roll into a corner, he sprints out of the zone. He nears the boards, along which he figures his unseeing teammate will ring the puck. It’s cleared too hard for him to reach, but it skipjacks over the stick of the Washington defenseman in the neutral zone. Crosby now has it but is sealed to the boards by three Capitals. He knows his left wing has a better shot than him but is several seconds from the offensive zone, so he spins sharply. He skates back toward the blue line with one defenseman following him and the other two Capitals moving to cover their net, leaving a small pocket of empty ice. He is still backtracking when his left wing finally enters the zone, skating into the gap created for him. Crosby looks neither at his left wing nor at the puck on his stick; he uses his gaze as disinformation. It is his right pinky that is his seismometer, recording the puck’s position as it treads his straight blade and send vibrations up his stick. He saucers a no-look backhand pass between the legs of the defenseman that slides into the wheelhouse of the left wing, who slaps it on net.

Washington collects the big rebound and seems poised to rush up ice, but Crosby has already read this play and retreated to defensive position in the neutral zone. From several strides away he lines up the puckcarrier, leads with his backside, and shivers the puck loose with a hip check that has the inevitability and muted violence of a seaborne collision.


A Soviet coach once explained his nation’s approach to hockey this way: “If an artist paints a picture, he has to be locked up for a month or so to get in the frame of mind to produce his masterpiece. If hockey is to be treated as the creation of a masterpiece, one must live with and in hockey. One has to refuse everything else.”

Tarasov and all the Soviet coaches he begat tried and for a time succeeded in imposing structure on the most improvisational game.Tarasov believed hockey to be an art, one that could be perfected through progressive Soviet principles, and he conditioned his players for it in every sense of the word. (The Russian term for hockey player is “hockeyist.”) He conducted their practices, games, and motions off the ice until he had orchestrated creativity. “Stanislasky simply thought that art must be higher than anything else, higher than personal tragedies or family dramas,” Tarasov wrote. “And he was absolutely right about that. It is just like that in sport, in hockey . . . . All [a player’s] life he subordinates to serving hockey and the team.”

Tarasov was the first of many to coach both the national team and CSKA, which won the Soviet League championship 32 times. Two years of military service were compulsory in the Soviet Union, and CSKA was made up of nominal soldiers, “enlisted officers.” In 1977, Leonid Brezhnev, a huge hockey fan, demanded an unbeatable national team, so CSKA, able to “draft” any player in the USSR, culled the very best and became the de facto national team. Tarasov rejected the Canadian idea that players should “play more and practice less.” He believed games were for performing programs that were mastered at practice. His players trained in seclusion at Arhangelskoye, an artists’ colony in a birch forest nineteen miles outside of Moscow. They lived two to a room in barracks. There was one telephone and no rink. They awoke at seven, had open-air calisthenics and weight training for an hour, then took a bus to Moscow for on-ice practice, then lunch and a two-hour rest period, then back to Moscow to practice on ice for the rest of the day, then dinner  and a classroom session with the coach. Women and drink were forbidden, and lights-out was at 11. The players earned on average $12,000 per year, all bonuses included. Some of it they spent on contraband Western sticks and “Kanadki,” Canadian-made skates. In their market-less economy they had no incentive to be flashy or individually great. They played a kind of hockey as involuntary as a reflex, and then went home to Arhangelskoye six nights a week, eleven months of the year.


The Soviets’ was an attempt at a possession game played by five-man units that stayed together for years, even decades. Neither Tarasov nor any Russian coach actively matched lines with the opposition. Instead, the Soviets rotated their units regularly, playing as practiced and forcing opponents to adjust to them as they loomed the puck between switched positions all over the ice.

Tarasov disdained defense, saying: “Even when we set up our defenses we still keep in mind that we must attack… . . . I always proceed from the principle that the forwards must not squeeze back against their own net; their position should be somewhere near the blueline.” Soviets wouldn’t dig for pucks in the corners or along the boards. About bodychecking, Tarasov said, “We’re not learning how to do it. We’re learning how to avoid it.” They did not want the puck simply cleared from their defensive zone. They wanted it under their control because that’s where their offense was generated, on breakouts in which they passed and skated in combinations that threshed players from the defense—from 4 on 3 to 3 on 2 to 2 on 1—as they winnowed the puck down the ice and into the net.

The centerman was the hub of his wingers and the linchpin of the whole system. Playing with domestic sticks too frail for slap shots, the Soviets’ offense revolved around the pass. Tarasov’s teams attempted 270 passes per game at a time when the average was 150. Whoever wasn’t in possession of the puck skated around it in parabolic routes, like a Bohr-model electron orbiting a nucleus. To Tarasov, taking a shot on net was a “moral question.” Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden said of the Soviets: “All night long I got ready for a shot, moved, went down, got up, got ready, moved—and then fished the puck from the net. Once I got so frustrated that I yelled out, ‘Damnit, shoot the thing.’” If there was no open net at the end of their play, the Soviets reset, skating and passing, always a late man coming down the middle of the ice like the next tooth in a cogwheel.


Pittsburgh’s goaltender ventures behind the net to corral a dump-in, loses the puck in the slush under a heavy, two-man forecheck, and is in no position to stop the resulting shot. The Capitals take the lead on a garbage goal by the third line.


One day during the Russian winter of 1971, a Canadian diplomat read a column in the state paper Izvestia in which the authorities complained of the Soviets’ tedious international dominance. They wrote that they wanted to play Canada’s best professionals, and they were no longer afraid of risking their amateur status for the Olympics. Parties from both sides worked out the details, and the first unrestricted best-versus-best tournament, the Summit Series, was announced. Tarasov, however, would not realize his dream. Prior to another gold at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, Tarasov allowed his players to accept $200 each from the Japanese hockey federation for two exhibition games. This was his second great offense. His first was pulling CSKA off the ice in protest during a crucial league game in which Brezhnev had to plead for his return. He would watch the eight-game series from the stands and never again coach the national team.

The pundits at the Globe and Mail and Hockey Night in Canada predicted a sweep of the four games in Canada and the four in Moscow. Le Soleil, the Toronto Star, and the Southam News Service said 7-1 for Canada. Tarasov admitted that the Canadian professionals were better at bodychecking, goaltending, stickhandling, and shooting. “[Canadians] like and know how to score,” he wrote. “To shoot always and, as soon as the opportunity arises, everywhere, independent of the mood or general feeling.” But, he said, “our brainwork is better.” According to the players, the Soviets’ strategy was, “Skate hard and pass, pass, pass.” The Canadians were told to forecheck relentlessly, to jam the Soviet attack.

T

he Soviets won the first game 7-3 and humbled a nation. The Canadian coach told the press, “A little piece of all of us died today.” The next day’s Globe and Mail read: “CANADA MOURNS HOCKEY MYTH.” The Soviets had three wins, one loss, and one tie after the first five games. Needing to win three straight in Moscow to win the series, Team Canada’s captain said of the task, “The country’s at stake here.” The Canadians won the next two, purposefully fracturing the ankle of the Soviets’ best player in the process. Tarasov said the Canadians practiced “playing terrorism.” Canada’s assistant coach said: “Hell, these guys can’t know much about the game. That’s the way it’s been played for the past fifty years, and that’s the way it’ll be played for another fifty. Has hockey ever been anything else but a street game? After a century, are we going to change it to suit the fine-arts crowd?” The NHLers played what’s now referred to as North American hockey. Their offense began with two thumps in the opponent’s zone, the first a forechecker hitting the puckcarrier, the second another forechecker arriving at the boards to collect the puck. He played it to a defenseman at the blue line who shot it straight away. They then all clotted the net, and if the puck wasn’t forced in, it was played back to the point again and again, the team dilating and contracting like cardiovasculature until a goal was scored.

The final game was tied with less than a minute to play when a little-known off-wing named Paul Henderson screamed from the bench to his teammate, “get off, because I’m going to score a fucking goal!” Henderson jumped on the ice and did just that, winning the series in front of 100 million Soviets watching on television and 16 million Canadians watching back home, four million more than watched the moon landing. They had won but barely, and Ken Dryden, Canada’s goaltender in that game, wrote: “From the unswerving commitment to the belief that Canadians are unquestionably the best in the world and that our style is right because we invented the game and developed it, the feeling now seems to have changed to an awareness that the Russians have something going, too . . . Both the Russians and the Canadians have an amazing amount to learn.”

The Soviets suffered losses in other major games: to the Americans in 1960 and 1980, both for gold medals; to the Czechs in the World Championship after the 1968 invasion; and to Canadian professionals in four out of five Canada Cup tournaments. As Tarasov explained, “We do not have the spirit to draw on that these Canadians do . . . [They have] a light that cannot be put out. You defeat them sometimes, but you discourage them never.” One Soviet said that the Canadians beat them because of “self-sacrifice”; another, “hunger for victory”; a third: because they “threw their bones all over the ice.” When Canadian professionals trounced Russian professionals in the last Winter Olympics (after losing to them and Ovechkin the year before at the World Championships), the Russian goaltender said it was because the Canadians “came like gorillas out of a cage.”


In the last seconds of the middle period, the Capitals’ center, who has shadowed Crosby all night, blindsides him behind the play, shouldering his chin. Crosby falls to the ice and stays there scuttled until the period ends, when he skates doubled-over to the bench. No penalty is called on the play.


Walter Gretzky, Wayne’s father, was himself a hockey player and the son of two ethnic Poles who fled the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. He drilled Wayne on a backyard rink six days a week. Wayne could watch hockey on the family television only if he sightlessly traced the path of the puck on a piece of paper on his lap. When he was 11, Wayne stayed home from school to watch Game 8 of the ’72 Summit Series. Of that series, he recalled: “People said ‘Wow, this is really something incredible.’ Not to me it wasn’t. I’d been doing those [Soviet] drills since I was three years old.”

Bobby Orr called the backyard rink “the heart and soul” of Canadian hockey. Gordie Howe first skated on a backyard rink; so did Eric Lindros and Jonathan Toews. The six Sutter brothers learned the game on a slough next to a barn. The four Staal boys played on a homemade rink on their sod farm. Head coach Paul Maurice played on one and believes that “there was a difference in how you learned to handle the puck. If you wanted it, you had to get it. If you wanted to work with it, you had to keep it.”

Walter Gretzky used to make Wayne’s rink at the start of every winter with a lawn sprinkler and garden hose. “You can’t make a rink like this any more because the winters aren’t cold enough,” he said in 2007. “You get one day cold, next day warm. You can’t get a rink going. Winters are warmer now. There’s no ice.”

Ken Dryden wrote, “Canadians have moved from farms and towns to cities and suburbs . . . they’ve civilized winter and moved it indoors. A game we once played on rivers and ponds, later on streets and driveways and in backyards, we now play in arenas, in full team uniform, with coaches and referees, or to an ever-increasing extent we don’t play at all. For, once a game is organized, unorganized games seem a wasteful use of time; and once a game moves indoors, it won’t move outdoors again.”


In the third period the wind is blowing fifteen miles per hour and the rain is falling harder than it has all night. Pittsburgh rolls its lines, gains the momentum, and holds it. The rain is hitting standing water, and the dissolving ice is now gooseflesh. The Penguins are attempting skill plays rather than throwing the puck into the zone and trying to grind out goals.

With ten minutes remaining and the score 2-1, the teams switch sides, to negate any natural advantages. Pittsburgh’s coach tries to get Crosby on the ice two minutes later, but in the midst of the line change, the Capital who scored their second goal scores again. Pittsburgh presses further and Washington retrenches. Their coach has imposed a defensive scheme, the neutral-zone trap.


A tiny minority of Americans played in the NHL in the ‘60s, and a few Swedes, Finns, and Czechoslovaks joined them in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but until very recently the league was overwhelmingly Canadian. The Soviets played NHLers infrequently, in the Canada Cup and occasional exhibitions. Hoping for a cultural exchange, they once held a coaching symposium that only one NHL coach attended. No Western journalist covered domestic Soviet hockey until 1987. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed, its players flooded the NHL. Assistant coaches, comprehensive training regimes, actual systems for attack and defense, and a new style were introduced to a league not much changed from its first days, when those who played it were off-season rugby players and veterans of trench warfare.

Soviet Russians had tried to centralize ice hockey in their own country and conquer it abroad. They succeeded at the first and broke even at the second. Their tradition remains in European Russia, though the infrastructure is rusting. The hockey factories are now shuttered or, in the case of Dinamo, merged but undercapitalized. They still manufacture an elite forward every four or five years. Free now to develop market-oriented skillsets, Russians are the slickest and most individually skilled players in the world. They are also the highest-paid. Tatiana Ovechkina negotiated her son’s contract so that he would earn $9.538 million every year until 2021. One of her stipulations was that he had to earn more per season than Crosby’s $8.7 million. (Crosby’s isn’t the second-largest contract; that belongs to Ilya Kovalchuk, a right wing worth $100 million to the New Jersey Devils.) But most Russian players remain at home in their loss-leading league of oligarchs. A junior system was finally created in 2009, most of the twenty-nine teams subsidiaries of KHL schools. These juniors defeated Canada’s juniors for the 2011 World Junior Championship, then got so drunk that they were barred entry to their Delta flight home.


Pittsburgh’s third line is on the ice with a minute left in the game when the coach pulls his goaltender for an extra attacker. Crosby has seemed woozy in the third period, and it takes him several seconds to realize he’s the player who should jump onto the ice. In a week’s time, it will be revealed that he has suffered a concussion. The Penguins will put him on their long-term injured reserve, preferring to sacrifice the remainder of his season rather than risk his health.

In the offensive zone, freed of any positional responsibilities, Crosby floats around the snow and sluice water. He keeps away from the puckwork around the boards in order to sprint to patches of open ice and linger for less than a second before slinking away. Thirty seconds remain, and the Capitals’ defensive program is running without a glitch. The puck is played back to the blue line, where Ovechkin misses a steal. Crosby is toggling between plans around the net. He is seeing transmission lines leading into the goal and sliding into them, closing the circuit, the filament of their possibility flickering for only a moment.

What distinguishes Crosby and Ovechkin from a league of muckers and grinders is called hockey sense. True hockey sense is rare. Wayne Gretzky had more of it than any player before or since, though he couldn’t explain what it was. “When I’m out there, I try to think as far ahead as I can,” he said of it. “When I go in on goal, I think about everything else but scoring.” A player in possession of hockey sense perceives the sport differently, more simply than the rest. He sees levels in the game even while he is within it: the two teams gearing, the pinions of their lines meshed, individual players pulled along by their positions like sprocket teeth on a roller chain. Urging him through these levels is a kinesthesia based deeper than muscle and synapse. “Nine out of ten people think it’s instinct,” Gretzky said, “and it isn’t.”

Crosby and Ovechkin are preternatural athletes, and they are blessed with a kind of empathy. They can anticipate the effects of their own actions on other less talented players, can foresee the daisy chains of cognition webbing the ice, and can manipulate these players far in advance with consummate skill, like omniscient narrators. In this way Crosby and Ovechkin author the play.

Washington clears the puck with seventeen seconds to go. Ovechkin hops into a celebration, points to the sky. The Capitals earn two points in the standings. They will play the Penguins at least twice more this season. Both teams refuse to follow protocol and shake hands at center ice.


Two years before his death in 1997, when Russian and Canadian hockey were finally synthesizing in the NHL, Tarasov wrote: “The appearance of the pros on the international scene and their games against the Russian hockey players in particular demanded that they change their game’s style. It sure didn’t happen all at once. In the series of games against our players, the Canadians played ‘their’ hockey. But having sensed the power of Russian hockey, they quit their “we’ll win easily” attitude, which is harmful, not only in sport, but in all aspects of life as well, and, having compared their style of play with ours, decided to reorganize a lot of things in their performances.

“Both hockey schools, the Canadian and Russian, are the best in the world. Each of them
strives to come out on top. So be it.”


This Winter Classic was the biggest success yet for the NHL. Sponsorship revenue increased 20 percent over the previous year, US viewership increased 22 percent, retail growth went up 78 percent, and the entire inventory of 38,000 Winter Classic retro jerseys was sold. “NHL Winter Classic” peaked at No. 6 in global trending on Twitter on New Year’s Day. The game carried the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic in prime time.

The weather and the ice made the game stilted and inelegant, and the marketed stars were held pointless. But should anyone in this new audience continue to follow closely, he or she will find real joy in watching them play. He or she will see that every so often, Crosby and Ovechkin make art. They set up or score goals in plays like perfect sentences, both assembled out of factorials of finite possibility by authors whose every choice seems the right and only one. What Crosby and Ovechkin offer the attentive viewer is the chance to twin the emotion of creation. The game is so fast, and its paths and alternatives so fleeting, that finding the play before its construction, as they do, makes its fruition feel as though you placed it there yourself. Watching them means having another consciousness ask you, Can you see what I see?

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