Wayne Gretzky sees himself a lot in Alex Ovechkin, from the smile on his face every time he walks on the ice to his passion for scoring goals.
There are also differences, such as Gretzky’s only concern with growing up in the NHL in Brantford, Ontario, from Ovechkin’s education in Moscow. “The Great One” believes the captain of the Washington Capitals has a good chance of breaking his 894-goal record that once seemed untouchable, depending on how long Ovechkin’s NHL career has played. Gretzky speculated that Ovechkin could return home to Russia and end his career in the Kontinental Hockey League.
“Maybe someday in his mind he will say, ‘Look, I want to go home and play in the KHL while I can still compete at a high level,'” Gretzky told The Associated Press during a telephone interview on Sunday. ” We do not know it. It’s his decision. But I think he likes being in Washington, I think he likes the NHL and I think he will do everything he can at any time to chase the record. “
Ovechkin’s longevity and his quest for Gretzky’s record are among the topics discussed in their first joint interview, aired on NBC Sports Network on Monday. He accompanies them 3,000 kilometers away and hockey pauses because of the coronavirus pandemic, but highlights the potential of Ovechkin, who has 706 goals, spending the next few years chasing Gretzky.
Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, tied for the league lead with David Pastrnak of Boston, and if the regular season were to resume, he could tie Gretzky and Mike Bossy with nine seasons of 50 goals. Otherwise, the time lost and the focus on the chase could cause Ovechkin to play long enough to break the record.
“You really feel like this record is meaningful,” said Steve Mayer, NHL content manager, in a video interview with the AP. “I have a feeling that if he’s close, he won’t leave so quickly. “
When asked how long he would play, Ovechkin made several references to the remaining year of his contract and said, “We will see. “He responds in the same way to Kathryn Tappen of NBC during the hour’s special with Gretzky and adds:” I am in good health, thank God, and I always like this game. As soon as I am not going to like I’m not going to deceive this game because I respect it a lot. “
Gretzky knows this feeling and was even offered a job to play in Russia in 1999 after playing his last NHL game. He respectfully refused.
“All I can remember is that my state of mind was that there was only one league and if I’m not good enough for that league, I’m done,” said Gretzky. “I grew up, I’m an NHL guy and if I can’t play in the NHL, that’s it for me. He is probably in a different scenario. He grew up in Russia and is proud of his country and it may be great for him to go home. “
At 35, Ovechkin has already passed the age where goal scorers generally slow down and post figures not seen in decades. Even at his own pace, Ovechkin would likely need to play at least four more seasons to threaten the record, which Gretzky said would be great for the game.
Gretzky remembers that his father told him that his record would be broken one day and that he hoped he would manage it with the same class and dignity as Gordie Howe when Gretzky surpassed him as a top scorer.
“I can’t help but clap and ground him every day,” said Gretzky. “I hope I’m the first guy to shake his hand when he breaks my record.”
It’s a hope for a few years. With a raging pandemic, Ovechkin – whose wife is expecting the couple’s second child – said in a recent video call that he was focusing on the present, not the future.
“Right now, I’m not thinking about about 50 goals or catching” The Great One “or anyone else,” said Ovechkin. “My mind right now (is) to do my best what I can do and what my family can do to be safe.”