VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The best hockey players in the world are at the Vancouver Games, and still, Russian Alex Ovechkin stands out.
Especially at Russia House.
Flashbulbs popped and conversations stopped as Ovechkin talked up his homeland, which will host the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
"I'm proud to be Russian," Ovechkin said during an interview with The Associated Press. "We have probably the best country in the world.
"Everything is the best: hockey players, cars, girls."
The reigning, two-time NHL MVP is certainly making his case on the ice, making jaw-dropping plays with his skates, stick and shoulders.
Ovechkin put Jaromir Jagr on his back with a center-ice hit that broke his visor Sunday, powering Russia into the quarterfinals, a day after the Czech star called Ovechkin the best player in the world.
"Every great player, they're different," Jagr said. "It's like you cannot compare Mario Lemieux to Wayne Gretzky because they have their own style.
"Have you ever seen a player like Ovechkin?"
Just ask teammate Sergei Fedorov.
"I haven't seen anybody like him," the 40-year-old Fedorov said. "He's got his own genes."
In Vancouver, Ovechkin has made headlines with his ferocious play. Even before he laid out Jagr, the 6-2, 218-pound forward also went after Slovakia's Zdeno Chara, who is almost 7-feet tall on skates and weighs more than 250 pounds.
Ovechkin makes no apologies for his play.
"It's the Olympics," he said.
And the stakes are high.
The Russians will be sent packing if they lose Wednesday, when they'll likely play host Canada — which must beat Germany to advance — in the single-elimination quarterfinals.
Ovechkin said both teams will be "hungry like a tiger" to win.
"Right now, I'm here and I want to win gold probably the same like when I play in the NHL for the Stanley Cup," he said.
It's that hard-hitting, bang-and-crash NHL style that Ovechkin fans love, and the man in charge of the Russian hockey team hates.
"Ovechkin does not play like a Russian. He plays like an NHL player," Russia hockey president and general manager Vladislav Tretiak said through an interpreter. "He risks injury and wasting energy by trying to check everybody."
Despite his pounding physical play, Ovechkin hasn't abandoned his ability to score. He has two goals and four points, one fewer than the scoring leaders at the 2010 Olympics. He has picked up where he left off in the NHL, scoring 42 goals to tie Sidney Crosby for the lead and setting up enough teammates to have a league-high 89 points — nine more than any other player — in 54 games.
Monday, though, was a day for rest.
The Russians canceled their scheduled practice, presumably to rest up for as many as three games if they advance to Sunday's gold-medal game.
Success is paramount as Russia prepares for Sochi, where the NHL may not allow its players to perform.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently the league might not decide until 2012 or later whether it will participate in the Winter Olympics — an idea that sends shivers through organizers and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Ovechkin — who signed a $124 million, 13-year contract with the Washington Capitals two years ago — vows that he will play no matter what Bettman says.
"My GM (George McPhee) agrees with me, but I didn't talk about it with Gary," Ovechkin said. "It's still four years to go."