By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
By late yesterday afternoon -- after about a trillion replays around the world -- Washington Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin's falling-backward, over-the-head, twisting goal Monday in Phoenix had entered NHL lore as one of the greatest plays in the history of the game.
"We were in our [Outdoor Life Network] studio last night with our three analysts when word was passed down: 'Wait until you see this highlight. It may be the best goal this year.' Our jaws dropped," said Bill Clement, studio host for NBC's and OLN's NHL coverage. "Oh my god. It's one of the greatest goals of all time. We are starting to talk about him for the Hart Trophy," given to the league's most valuable player.
Superlatives describing "the goal" began knocking around the hockey world: "Special." "Amazing." "Incredible." "Once-in-a-lifetime."
"Obviously, I've seen a lot of goals, and this is one of the most exciting goals I've personally ever seen," Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "He's one on one and he takes it from the forehand to his backhand . . . all the way to the net. The defenseman does a good job of knocking [Ovechkin] over and once the puck is over his head he stays with it enough to give it a flick with his wrist and he almost switches hands to redirect it into the net. It's one of the great one-on-one goals I think anybody could possibly score and we'll probably be watching it for years to come."
The 20-year-old Russian-born rookie was the talk of sports radio and did a handful of interviews yesterday, including ESPN and its Canadian counterpart, TSN, as well as appearances on two Washington television stations.
"I was lucky," he told ESPN. "I never did it before. We win the game so right now we feel pretty good."
By 6 a.m. yesterday, the goal had been viewed more than 8,000 times on the Washington Capitals' Web site, twice as often as the team's next most popular highlight this season.
"It's nuts," Capitals spokesman Nate Ewell said. "It's taken on a life of its own."
Ovechkin's goal was his second of the afternoon, his sixth in three games and was the right fix for the ailing Capitals, who are in 14th place in the NHL Eastern Conference and are near the bottom in league attendance. Ovechkin, who had a hat trick against the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim on Friday, is the hot star that the NHL needs as the league comes off its year-long lockout and struggles for attention.
"This goal is another step in Alexander's progression, which indicates how exciting a player he is," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, suggesting that the NHL's new rules allowing more wide-open skating play to players' strengths. "The new NHL and the re-launch afford an opportunity for a player to truly exhibit his skills."
Despite the over-the-top goal, Ovechkin's agent, veteran Don Meehan, said he and his client would stay with the plan for slow, steady growth both on the ice and in the marketplace. Meehan said that despite the international attention, there were no overnight offers for endorsements or paid appearances.
"When we signed Alexander in Washington . . . we thought it was important that he be assimilated into North America and into our culture, and to allow Alex to establish his presence on the team," Meehan said. "What he has gone and done is accelerate all that. We still maintain a conservative approach to this and we feel it's important to the team that he, as a rookie, establish that presence."
Sports marketers said that despite the incredible nature of Ovechkin's goal, his marketing was hampered by his youth, his unfamiliarity with the English language and the fact that the goal came late in a lopsided game between two last-place teams in the doldrums of the season.
Matthew Lalin of Steiner Sports, which matches companies with athletes in sponsorships and endorsements, said he saw Ovechkin's goal shortly after getting out of bed at 5 a.m. yesterday and immediately thought of gushing commercial opportunities.
"On plays like this, if they are on a larger stage, like a playoff win, when there is more at stake, there is a higher chance of something coming from it," Lalin said. "But if someone doesn't take that and run with it right now, it's probably going into the memory books as one of the great individual accomplishments of all time."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.