Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin shared stories and memories during Monday’s “Hockey at Home” interview series that aired on NBC Sports Network and Sportsnet.
The two prolific scorers met for the first time in Malibu, California when Gretzky invited Ovechkin and his wife to have dinner with his family. Ovechkin called the experience “crazy” and a “special moment.”
“It was great and I asked him questions because as a kid, you always want to know how it was back then when he played and what’s the difference between this hockey and hockey back then,” Ovechkin said.
Gretzky left the restaurant impressed with Ovechkin. The former Oiler said he normally gets questions about certain milestones and memories, but Ovechkin asked Gretzky about what he needs to improve upon as a captain.
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Ovechkin met Gretzky before winning his first Stanley Cup in 2018 as the Capitals were struggling to go deep in the playoffs.
“The thing I found so fascinating about Alex wasn’t so much about individualism, scoring goals, how do we become a better player but the whole night was about, ‘What can I do or what do I need to do as captain to help get our team over the hump? What can I do to contribute to winning a Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals and the city of Washington,'” Gretzky said. “I remember leaving there thinking, ‘Wow, this is so unique.’
“We could have talked about anything, goals, assists, games, memories and really, Alex, the only thing he had on his mind was that, ‘I have to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Washington,'” Gretzky recounted. “For me, that was one of the great parts of the whole evening. I knew then and there leaving the restaurant that one day he was going to lift the Stanley Cup.”
Ovechkin is an avid hockey stick collector and he asked Gretzky for one of his at the dinner. The four-time Stanley Cup champion made a deal that he would send him a stick when he won the trophy.
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Gretzky said Ovechkin never called him about the stick until he lifted the Cup. That’s when the Capitals forward began pestering the former Oiler monthly. His persistence eventually paid off as Ovechkin received the stick Gretzky used to score goal No. 807.
For both team captains, their best hockey moment was lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time. Gretzky said it’s especially meaningful to be the first player to lift the iconic trophy.
“We were both fortunate to win a lot of individual awards before we got to that first championship and that’s all wonderful. I played with a lot of great players, a lot of Hall of Famers, just great people,” Gretzky said. “But that time you lift the Stanley Cup and make no mistake about it, there’s something so cool about being the captain and getting to lift it first. This to me is the greatest, proudest moment as a hockey player and something I’ll never forget.
For Ovechkin, it was an arduous journey to get to the hockey pinnacle.
“To lift the Stanley Cup is probably the best moment in my hockey career. Obviously, it was a hard time for a lot of my teammates who had been with me since day one and for the whole organization,” Ovechkin said. “That moment I will never forget, to share a cup with Backy (Nicklas Backstrom). It was a special moment to see my family, how happy they were, all the fans, the whole organization, all the players. It was the best moment.”
To this day, Ovechkin has not watched the Cup-clinching Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights. When it re-airs on television, he’ll be tuned in.
“As soon as Game 5 against Vegas is going to be on TV, I’m going to watch it. To be honest with you, I’ve never watched a replay of that game so it will be interesting to see how I react,” the Capitals captain said. “I’m probably going to cry like I was on the ice.”
The two players have been intertwined more than ever as Ovechkin inches closer to Gretzky’s all-time NHL goal-scoring record. Ovechkin currently has 706 goals, while Gretzky sits atop the charts with 894.
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Gretzky made sure to send Ovechkin a message of encouragement as he was approaching the 700-goal mark.
“I don’t think people realize the microscope that you’re under. I saw his coach in a press conference talking about how much more tension there was, how many more media people, how many more people who were following the club and I understood that. I’ve been there and it’s a little bit gut-wrenching,” Gretzky said. “You get a little tight, you get a little bit nervous and all I texted him was just ‘Relax, you’re going to get to 700 real quick and before you know it, you’ll be at 800.'”
Gretzky said he watches almost every game Ovechkin plays in and he’s been cheering and rooting him on as the Capitals winger approaches “The Great One’s” goals record.
When Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s goal-scoring record, his father told him that when his record is broken, he hopes Gretzky displays as much class and dignity as Howe did when his marker was surpassed.
“I hope I did and I hope I’m the first guy to be able to shake his (Ovechkin) hand when he does break my record,” Gretzky said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that he has a great chance to do that.
“I think it’s outstanding for Alex and his family and I’m rooting for him as hard as anybody and I think it’ll be a wonderful day for the game of hockey when he gets to the record.”
With the 2019-20 NHL season paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ovechkin has taken time to reflect on his career as he spends time with his family.
“Obviously, right now I have a lot of time to think about it. It’s great, great for the game, great for me, my teammates, it’s great for the Washington D.C. area to be able to see that,” Ovechkin said. “Right now, I can’t even realize what I did throughout my career because my career is not ended. To be eighth all-time on goals in the NHL, it’s special.”
If Ovechkin breaks Gretzky’s goal-scoring record, the former Oiler will be waiting for a stick to arrive from Ovechkin.
“I hope that I get one of his sticks because I gave him one of mine so maybe we can do a nice trade.”