Since his arrival in the national hockey League (NHL) in 2005, Alexander Ovechkin has never ceased to amaze.
Collecting the seasons of 50 goals – he was headed for a ninth harvest of the genre prior to the suspension of activities -, the imposing winger Russian was able to raise over campaigns to the rank of a marker of generational.
If some young players sometimes need a few seasons to find their rhythm and their place in the NHL, “Ovie” has needed only a few seconds to prove to his teammates that he was the man of the situation.
Drafted in the first row of the last chance of 2004 by the Washington Capitals, he has, since his first campaign (2005-2006), registered 52 goals and 106 points at the age of 19 years.
The Quebecers Mathieu Biron has had the opportunity, through a seat of the most privileged, to live the first season of professional Ovechkin very closely. 25-year-old at the time, the former defender had played the entire campaign in the “Caps” and remember very well the enthusiasm aroused by the performance of “this recruit gifted”.
Biron has generously agreed to dive back into his memories of the way that we live, in a privileged way, the first moments in the NHL’s top goal scorer of the past 15 years.
Not too many expectations
At the dawn of the 2005 season, the training camp of the Capitals is getting ready to open. The expectations towards the team who is going through a difficult period, are moderate.
Arrived at the “Caps” a few months ago, Biron arrives at camp knowing very well that his team has drafted a player that many describe as “unique”.
“I heard a lot of people saying that this player, that I had never seen, would be a future star. Except that at the time, the players who could have an immediate impact in the NHL at 18-19 years old were very rare. I think of guys like Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton, who lived in the first year more challenging in the circuit.”
“But I quickly understood why they spoke of him like that. During a game of intra-team, at the beginning of training camp, Alex scored a goal and you could see something truly unique in his eyes. It was like a volcano about to explode of joy. But this was a match intra-team. This is the first memory I have of him.”
“I had never seen a player who loved all the mark. Whether in practices or in matches out of the contest, there is not a single purpose which was not fun. It is like a child at Christmas each time. This is not a coincidence if he scores as much today.”
Shortly after the season starts, and Ovechkin does not take long to demonstrate to his opponents and to his teammates that he is not there to laugh. He has collected 10 points, including six goals, in his first eight games in the NHL. It is bleached for the first time at its ninth part.
“I was beginning to grasp at what point it was over. As soon as his first game professional, he was already among the best. I recently listened to the documentary “The Last Dance” involving Michael Jordan, and we learn that it has quickly established itself as the best of his own. It’s really the same story for Alex. After four games, the team was already formed around him.”
Flamboyant “to him”
Those who have closely followed the career of Ovechkin, recall that the Russian, beyond his phenomenal performances, was distinguished also by his flamboyant style to his first campaign in the NHL.
Tinted visor of the possible, the laces yellow, nothing was left to chance by the spectacular number 8. But don’t believe it, ” said Biron, that he was doing this for attention.
“He was doing it for him. He loved it. It made him well. He did nothing of all this to impress people. It was natural for him.”
Biron remembers Ovechkin as a young man, extrovert and eager to learn who did everything to make veterans.
“He was certainly flamboyant on the ice, but he didn’t speak a lot of English on his arrival. Except that he was trying so hard. He wanted to integrate quickly. You could see immediately that it was a good person and he was doing great efforts.”
Biron goes there then a story that is quite revealing of the good intentions of Ovechkin at his arrival.
“I remember that dinner of the recruits, he wished to express themselves in front of all the guys. He asked Dainius Zubrus to come join him and he asked him to translate for you guys to understand what he had to say.”
“He had thanked all the players of the team, saying he had been fortunate to learn how to play professional hockey with teammates like these. He then said that he bestowed a great deal of respect to everyone, and that he considered himself lucky to be a part of the team. Everyone was really touched. As much as he could be flamboyant on a skating rink, he knew how to rally the troops.”
At that moment, something clicks in the head of Biron : Ovechkin will be a captain in the NHL.
“It was clear in my mind. It had a side leader incomparable. It quickly became the face of the franchise. Alex wanted others to follow him. He wanted to win. Even at the age of 19, he wanted to carry the team. I still make the comparison with Michael Jordan, but these guys are bigger than their sport.”
“When we lost 4 to 3, he wanted to be on the ice. In fact, he wanted to always be, but you could see that he really wanted to make a difference. He wanted the puck and take the shot of the match. Some are fearful in this kind of situation, but Alex had this type of moments. I think you can see the day with this character trait…”
When one asks Biron to tell the time, which was most marked about Ovechkin, his response is not slow.
“The famous goal that he scored lying on his back in Phoenix. […] I will never forget it. It is the purpose of a decade! The audience at Phoenix stood up and began to applaud Alex when their team was losing 4 to 1.”
“Wayne Gretzky was the coach of the Coyotes, and he applauded the goal that”Ovie” had to register against him. The opposing players came to congratulate him. Everyone took a break from the confrontation with the understanding that this type of the time not going to happen anytime soon. It was a time more important than the game.”
“When you live a grand old time, then you need to know to enjoy it. The coach and the players who applaud the goal of a player that faced them, you don’t see that often.”
And knowing the passion of mark of Ovechkin, there is no doubt that he no longer had to hold it in place…
“He has given an interview after this goal and it made no sense,” says Biron, laughing.
“He was so excited that he was looking for his words. He had to say, “oh, wow” 20 times during the two minutes of the interview. It was the sounds of a child of two years he was so happy. They did not understand absolutely nothing of his words. On his return in the locker room, everyone was laughing heartily. It has been teased for a long time with it.”
Knowing how to adapt
Ovechkin has always been able to score goals. This is what we do best. It has also always been able to register his name on the scoresheet, or apply a good failure.
But it has never been recognized as a great defensive player. It was, however, understood, at a certain time, that he should also involve in its territory to offer a chance for optimal his team to triumph.
“At 19, 20 or 21 years of age, it is true that Alex did not have major responsibilities defensive. But he has changed his game in any way. He finished with more control in this aspect with maturity. It does not try to be less offensive to many. He understood what it took to really win a championship.”
A record within his reach?
Fifteen years have passed since the debut of Ovechkin in the NHL. As of today’s date, it counts an impressive total of 706 goals in the circuit Bettman.
In the course of this season, he joined, and then passed several big names in hockey in the standings of the best scorers of all time. Many wonder if it will ever be to beat the absolute record held by Gretzky, who claims 894 nets career.
Thinks his ex-team-mate?
“This is an excellent question. But just the fact that he has eight seasons of 50 goals in the NHL, it’s incredible. In the hockey modern, only Steven Stamkos and Dany Heatley have more than one campaign of 50 nets. And they have two. It shows how Alex is at the top of the competition.”
“When you are talking about the markers of exception, you have guys like Mike Bossy and Brett Hull. Alex is part of this group here. These are phenomena.”
Now all that remains is to know if Ovechkin will one day beat the record of one who has cheered 15 years earlier, during a certain match played in Phoenix…