On Jan. 16, 2006, Alex Ovechkin scored a goal that still ranks among the most remarkable of his career. A rookie playing in his 44th game for the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin received the puck on a breakout, took it up the ice, crossed just inside the right circle and fell down, which would normally bring an end to the play.
Instead, while on his back, Ovechkin managed to flick his stick at the puck, which was sliding just within reach behind his head. The puck went past Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Brian Boucher and into the short side of the net, giving the Capitals a 6-1 lead in the third period with 8:06 remaining.
The goal has been a staple of Ovechkin’s highlights to this day, nearly a decade after it was scored. The Washington Times spoke to a number people in the arena in Glendale, Arizona that day to recreate how Ovechkin scored the goal and what it meant for the budding superstar and his team going forward.
Chris Clark (Capitals right wing): Being in our first season, a bunch of new guys all together, and Alex and everything — it was kind of a trying season. We weren’t winning a lot of games.
Jeff Halpern (Capitals center; team captain): We used to joke that we were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in October, just kind of how the season started, but we actually took a lot of pride in how the season moved forward.
Brendan Witt (Capitals defenseman): The year that [Ovechkin] got drafted, we had the lockout. We always heard good things about this kid, but you know, we never got to see him until that following training camp. From day one of training camp, we watched his raw skill and we knew that he would be a special player.
Clark: We knew it wasn’t going to be a great year, but it was a year that we knew, with a lot of these young guys, it was going to be something special in the future, so we wanted to keep building and getting better.
Glen Hanlon (Capitals coach): Our game plan was to get [Ovechkin] on the ice 20 minutes a game and center the power play around him, and … everybody thought the world of him, and everybody was happy, the players were happy, that we were structured that way.
Ovechkin: The whole year — I just remember a little bit, but the whole year, with how I play and how we play, I’m just enjoying my time. I’m just enjoying the atmosphere in locker room. Obviously, we don’t have success as a team, but we have pretty cool guys. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. It doesn’t matter — like, everybody’s still gonna be happy.
Brooks Laich (Capitals center): The game before, I think, was Anaheim, and he scored a hat trick goal in overtime. We won the game, 3-2, and he scored all three of them.
George McPhee (Capitals general manager): The game that he had played in Anaheim was a remarkable game. He scored three goals and hit everything in sight.
Corey Masse (Capitals manager of public relations): Obviously, they’re a team, but here’s a guy who, one way or another, by scoring a goal or physically setting the tone, was going to end that [six-game] losing streak.
Ben Clymer (Capitals right wing): We were bad. We were bad that whole season. Let’s not kid ourselves. That was a bad hockey team. … [The Coyotes] were golfing in April, too.
Halpern: Maybe it was because it was surrounded by the rookie dinner the next night, but that [Anaheim game] was one of the most memorable games for that season. It set the stage. It kind of put the guys in a good mood. … Witter, he tried to say some stuff at the rookie dinner [about his contract expiring], and the whole group would erupt into chanting, “One more year!” They basically wouldn’t let him speak. Every time he opened his mouth, they’d shout out, “One more year!”
Tarik El Bashir (Capitals beat reporter): [The next game] was a game against the Coyotes, who were kind of a bumbling franchise that wasn’t really going anywhere. … It was a holiday weekend. It was a Monday. It was a holiday — MLK Day, I believe. It was an afternoon. It was a matinee. The Capitals had the game in hand, and they were up, I believe, 5-1 at the time.
Witt: I went down the left side, and went to make an outlet play. … As a defenseman, we do those plays — I don’t know how many times I’ve done plays like that. … It’s just a typical outlet play. Me, as a defenseman, I’m just trying to get the puck up quick to the forward, and it happened to be Ovi.
Tyson Nash (Coyotes left wing): I was told that I was the reason Ovechkin ended up with the puck on his stick. I’m pretty sure I’m the guy, apparently, that turned the puck over at the offensive blue line and sent him the other way.
Darren Pang (Color commentator, Coyotes TV broadcasts): I remember thinking the one-on-one looked like nothing at all. I believe the defenseman was Paul Mara, and I think he was No. 23. I remember Paul Mara, and I just keep thinking to myself, “Ovechkin usually shoots in that situation, so I was waiting for him to shoot,” and then he pulled it to his backhand, if I’m not mistaken, and I’m thinking, “He’s wrapped up. He’s completely tied up. There’s no play whatsoever.”
Shane Doan (Coyotes right wing): The distance that he covers going from his right all the way across to his left is pretty amazing.
McPhee: I was actually sitting at that end of the press box. We were down at that end. I had a really good view of it. He was coming down and trying to toe-drag the defenseman and it sort of looked like he had run out of room and options. Then he did this thing that’s still hard to explain.
Brian Boucher (Coyotes goaltender): I know Ovechkin’s coming down the right side and I just wanted to be aggressive because I know he’s got a great shot and he can score off the rush. He’s basically all by himself.
Clark: At that point in the year, [defensemen have] seen so many highlights that at the end of the day, they back up and back up not wanting to get beat, and as they do, [Ovechkin] usually shoots from that point, but this one he made the toe-drag inside-out on [Mara], and he fell off balance.
Nash: Paul Mara, the guy he went around, thought he was pretty much safe. I don’t know if he could have played it any better as a defenseman.
El Bashir: The majority of NHL players, even elite players — once they were stood up by the defenseman and were now engaged with the defenseman, they would have given up on that play and would have probably stopped or tried to adjust. He was just like a runaway Mack truck and decided, “You know what? This guy is not going to stop me.” He just kept going.
Laich: You can’t tell where it is [from the bench], like — because there’s these guys [in] our line of sight, and it’s so fast, too, right? Our line of sight, people cross, don’t know where it is, and all of a sudden, the building’s just — you can just feel like, everyone’s like, digesting it.
Witt: I can remember the building just went silent. Then, when they showed it on the replay, everyone was like, “Oh! No way!”
Laich: He was kind of like a tumbleweed and dust, and all of a sudden, the puck was in the net.
Hanlon: I just remember thinking, “How did that go in?”
Clark: It was amazing.
Nash: Brian Boucher’s jock strap is still hanging from the rafters right now.
Boucher: I couldn’t believe he ended up doing what he did, and then after seeing how it went in, I couldn’t believe how it went in.
McPhee: I remember just sitting back after it went in the net, and the comment was, “Boy, this is going to resonate,” and it sure did.
Laich: The whole building went quiet. The whole building went quiet, and it was weird, because you could really feel the announcement of the superstar. It was against Wayne Gretzky’s team, who was the best player the game had ever seen, and all of a sudden, a young guy that was really, really good makes a play that really announces his superstardom like, ‘I’m here, and I’m the next generation of the league.”
Hanlon: When I saw it on the JumboTron, I thought, “That could be the best goal that I’ve ever seen.”
Ovechkin: I didn’t see the puck go in because I was on my back, but if I didn’t hit the board or get injured, I get up and I see [Boyd Gordon] and Witter came to me and start like, celebrate, so I have to go and see and look what happened, how I did it. It was pretty amazing and pretty cool.
Halpern: After that goal, when the five guys on the ice were in the huddle, Ovi just started shouting out, “One more year!”
El Bashir: Like, I’m watching it, and I’m in disbelief at what I saw. I was like, “Wait, did he score that? Did he mean to score that?” … They’re playing it on the JumboTron in the building, so as I’m watching it for the second or the third time and going, “Oh my God, what just happened?” the exact same thing is happening in the building, where there’s 7,000 fans or 8,000 fans in the building who are also watching this.
Witt: We were all surprised that it was a goal. We were like, “Are you kidding me?” We were pretty shocked.
Doan: Steve Gainey’s reaction, kicking the ice — throwing his head back and kicking the ice out of disgust, it was pretty funny.
Boucher: Not until I looked at the replay on the scoreboard did I think the crowd reacted in amazement in how amazing that goal was. Even myself, I was like, “That’s ridiculous.” I was mad, and I’m looking at it and I’m like, “That’s ridiculous. How does a guy do that?”
Halpern: The Phoenix broadcast booth was right next to where I was sitting [in the press box], and I could see them and kind of hear them. I can’t remember who I was sitting with, but I could see that group, and I could see Darren Pang … and they must have rewound that goal 10 times at least. They rewound it a lot, and we couldn’t figure it out what happened after watching it.
Ovechkin: For that moment, you know, it was unbelievable time, you know? My dream was come true — I play in the NHL, I did that kind of special goal and Gretzky was there as well.
Hanlon: I’m quite sure Gretzky said to him, “That’s a great goal.” Wayne Gretzky was coaching, and he said, “That’s a great goal,” and I’m sure it was one of the ones where all 40 players in the game were like, amazed.
Pang: Wayne Gretzky had this look on his face like he wanted to get the attention of Ovechkin to look at him, like, “Wow.” You know, “I’ve seen great goals, I’ve scored great goals, but that was unbelievable.”
Nash: I mean, who even tries to make that play in that situation? Who sticks with it? Most guys would give up on that situation after you’ve been knocked down or you fall down and you’re on your back and you’re twisted like a pretzel.
Halpern: Whenever I see that goal, I always chuckle and think, “Thank goodness Boyd Gordon didn’t knock or try to poke that one in.” It looked like he was right there and could have knocked it in, and it would have been the greatest goal of all time to a really good assist. You always have to thank Boyd Gordon for not ruining that moment.
Ovechkin: Obviously, the emotion and the move what I make and how everything goes in there, it’s probably the biggest goal. Obviously lucky, but I’ll take it.
Pang: Even when I watched the replays, I was like, “Man, did he change his hand angle? Did he do something differently while he was in midair going backwards?” He looked like Jason Bourne adjusting there. Like, how did he do that?
Masse: I remember walking down from my spot in the press box down to the other end and the P.R. guys from Phoenix looking at me and saying, “I can’t believe what your boy just did.”
Hanlon: [In the locker room], we were just like, “Holy jeez.” [Ovechkin] was all smiles, and it wasn’t like, “OK, I’ve likely done one of the greatest things that’s ever happened.” It was just, “That was a lot of fun! Boy, that was fun! Let’s try it again!”
Witt: I played almost 900 games, and I never saw anybody score a goal like that in a game. That’s a lot of hockey.
El Bashir: I keep thinking, “I’ve got to talk to Wayne Gretzky,” who, of course, was the coach of the Coyotes of the time, because he scored a lot of goals. I went straight to the visitors’ news conference, which is something I never did as a beat writer because you always want to get the perspective of your coach and your players, but I had to go talk to Wayne.
Clark: I do remember the media talking to Alex about going over that play. It’s something where, Alex draws attention to himself after he scores, but he was so excited that he wasn’t the one in the locker room after the game talking about it, saying how great it was. He was just explaining what happened, and with the reporters — as humble as he doesn’t look on the ice, he’s a humble person off the ice.
Halpern: To see Ovi kind of put the team on his back was pretty cool, and then that Phoenix game was really a good cap to that weekend.
McPhee: I just remember him being interviewed on ESPN the next day or so, and he could hardly speak English, and he’s trying to tell them what [he] did, how [he] did, and it was pretty funny.
El Bashir: I remember immediately, the Canadian outlets started calling it The Goal — capital T, capital G. There had been millions of goals scored in this game, and that was The Goal.
Masse: That’s why you buy a ticket from that point forward to go see Alex Ovechkin when he comes to your city, even though it’s on a Monday and the holiday and it’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
Witt: It was truly amazing. As teammates, we always joked — that was part of our identity. We always played jokes, and I think later in the year, we would just say, “Hey Ovi, just lay on your back and score a goal.”
Boucher: Whenever you see highlight shows, “most famous goals” or whatever, it always seems to crack the top 10. Even though I’m on the bad end of it, it’s always pretty cool to see it.
McPhee: I think, from my perspective, it was, “Thank God we have this guy.” It gave our fans something to watch and appreciate and [let them know] the future was bright. In a tough year, he was an incredibly entertaining player to watch.
• Zac Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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