Hockey fans love their superstars. Even better is a superstar with a smile, no matter how many teeth are missing.
Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's most dynamic player, may have a gap or two in his teeth, but there are very few flaws in his game.
His combination of skill and pit bull tenacity has catapulted a mediocre Washington Capitals franchise into Stanley Cup contenders and re-ignited one of the league's most passionate fan bases.
Born in Moscow, Russia on September 17, 1985, Ovechkin was a real chip off the old block.
His father, Mikhail, was a professional soccer player, and his mother, Tatyana, won two Olympic gold medals while competing for Russia's basketball team at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Talk about good genes.
The first sign of Ovechkin's love for hockey came when he was only two years old. While in a store, he grabbed a toy hockey stick and refused to let go.
Whenever he saw a hockey game on TV, he would drop all his toys and run to the TV, protesting strongly if his parents tried to change the channel.
But it was Ovechkin's brother, Sergei, who initially introduced him to hockey, enrolling him in hockey school at the age of eight.
Sergei later died in a car accident when Alex was only 10. A childhood friend claims this is one of the reasons Ovechkin is so passionate on the ice.
Ovechkin began playing in the Russian Superleague with Dynamo Moscow at the age of 16.
It wasn't long before his exceptional skill and knowledge of the game caught the attention of scouts in the NHL and soon every team was trying desperately to land the young Russian phenom.
In the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Washington Capitals selected Ovechkin first overall. However, due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he began playing in the 2005-06 season.
Ovechkin had been projected as the first overall pick for nearly two years prior to the draft, and he had earned comparisons to the legendary Mario Lemieux.
He was so highly regarded that the Florida Panthers attempted to draft him in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in the ninth round, even though his birthday was two days after the cut-off (September 15, 1985).
Rick Dudley, the general manager of the Panthers, claimed the pick was legitimate, saying that Ovechkin was old enough with leap years taken into consideration. Isn't that unbelievable?
With the lockout over, Ovechkin was eager to showcase his talents to the Washington fans.
In his first game, he had an immediate impact, scoring two goals in a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But Ovechkin was only warming up.
During his rookie 2005-06 season, he led all NHL rookies in goals, points, power-play goals, and shots.
He finished third overall in the NHL in scoring with 106 points and tied for third in goals with 52. He was also named to the NHL First All-Star Team, the first rookie to receive the honour in 15 years.
The highlight of his rookie season came on January 16, 2006. Ovechkin scored a goal that veteran hockey reporter Bill Clement called "one of the greatest goals of all time."
Knocked down by Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Paul Mara and sliding on his back facing away from the net, Ovechkin was able to hook the puck with one hand on his stick and slide it into the net past goalie Brian Boucher for his second goal of the night. It became referred to as "The Goal."
After the season ended, Ovechkin received the Calder Memorial Trophy awarded to the NHL's best rookie.
Heading into his 2007-08 sophomore season, Ovechkin picked up right where he left off.
He led the league in scoring with 65 goals and 112 points, and in the process provided sports networks with plenty of material to fill their highlight reels.
Ovechkin quickly became a sensation around the NHL for his entertaining plays and exuberant after-goal celebrations in which he would jump into the boards and his teammates.
In his most impressive Oscar-like performance, after scoring his 50th goal of the season, Ovechkin put his stick on the ice, pretending to warm his hands over it because it was "hot, hot, hot."
During the 2008 SuperSkills Competition in Montreal, Ovechkin lifted the puck onto his stick as he crossed the blue line, popped it into the air, spun 360 degrees, and then tried to bat it past the goalie in midair. Alex missed, but the fans went crazy.
Recognizing a good thing when they had it, the Capitals signed Ovechkin to a 13-year contract extension worth an astounding US$124 million. The most lucrative contract in NHL history.
If that wasn't impressive enough, Ovechkin negotiated the entire contract without an agent, speaking directly with Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and general manager George McPhee.
With the new contract out of the way, Ovechkin would go on to lead his team from worst to first in the Southeastern Division, winning 43 games and making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
With his ability to bring fans out of their seats with exciting plays, Alexander the Great has quickly become the new face of the NHL.
In Washington, where fans have suffered through years of mediocrity, Ovechkin's toothless smile and welcoming personality is simply a breath of fresh air.