Alex Ovechkin was having dinner with his IMG agent, a friend, and Caps PR man Sergey Kocharov late Saturday night, and doing what one does during a dinner with friends — staring at his phone. Suddenly, he turned to Kocharov with a request. I’m going to make a phone call, Ovechkin said, and I need you to take a video of it.
The person Ovechkin was calling was CJ Grinnell, a 20-year old forward with the East Coast Wizards of the Eastern Hockey League. Grinnell, on a lark, had left his phone number on one of Ovechkin’s previous Instagram photos, with a one-word command: “call.” And now Ovechkin was following orders.
“Hey what’s up, it’s Alex Ovechkin calling you,” the Caps star said. “Uh, sorry you missed the call, but it was the only one chance. Bye.”
Then Ovechkin posted the video on Instagram, tagging Grinnell’s account.
“What’s up you tell me to call you!!!” Ovechkin wrote. “I did…but you no pick up! So check you’re voice mail haha.”
Grinnell had never dreamed that Ovechkin — who blocked his own phone number from appearing during the call — would follow through. As luck would have it, he had been watching replays of the NHL skills challenge when Ovechkin called. But his phone soon started blowing up — with a flurry of prank calls from across the country, with hundreds of new people following him on Instagram, and with his friends calling and texting to talk about how he blew it.
“It was a terrible feeling to miss the call,” Grinnell wrote to me. “You never want to miss a call from someone like Alex Ovechkin. I just didn’t think he’d actually call….I was getting calls till 2 am last night. We’re all hockey fans, and no one can fathom the fact that Ovi called. It’s still hard to comprehend.”
Ovechkin, you might have noticed, has been one of the stars of this all-star weekend. He was an irrepressible ham during Friday night’s fantasy draft. He was trying to bat pucks out of the air with Robert Luongo’s goalie stick during Saturday night’s skills challenge. And this all hints at why Grinnell so admires Ovechkin.
“I love him because of his passion,” he wrote. “He celebrates every goal like its his last. His skill set is out of this world, and I try to emulate it in my game.”
As you’d imagine, scores of fans have now started bombarding Ovechkin with their phone numbers, asking for him to get in touch. I would guess this won’t become a regular part of his life. Grinnell, meanwhile, will put up with the continuing prank calls and jokes, although he still hopes he can one day touch base with Ovechkin, “just to talk about hockey and what it’s like to play in the NHL.”
“I’ll always save the voicemail,” Grinnell wrote. “It’s basically a piece of history to me. That’s the top scorer of our generation, and he called me. It’s honestly something else.”