“It is important to make it a special night for the player, because for them it is something that they will always remember. But it is also an important milestone, important event for our fan base, for our organization and the player’s teammates, so you just want to make sure everything gets done the right way,” said Sergey Kocharov, the Capitals’ vice president of communications.
Ovechkin reaches new career plateaus seemingly every game, most recently with his 140th career multi-goal game and 25th career hat trick Thursday night. But ceremonies for the big milestones take months of planning.
“Obviously we don’t think the chase is over — hopefully Ovi [will hit] 800 that we have to plan for. But at the same time, knowing full well that nothing is guaranteed, we just want to make sure that we recognize him appropriately,” Kocharov said.
The Capitals have honored Ovechkin for 500 goals, 600 goals and 1,000 games, and they have held a combined ceremony for Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom for a culmination of milestones. Each ceremony has been planned meticulously by all facets of the organization, and each has differed slightly.
Gifts are important as well. It’s a long-standing tradition to give the player a silver stick for his 1,000th game. For 500 goals, the Capitals worked with Heritage Stick Co. to give Ovechkin a golden stick, wanting something special for a player who collects so many sticks. For 600 goals, the Capitals worked with an artist to create a portrait of Ovechkin in three different jerseys.
The plan for 700 goals remains a surprise. The ceremony will take place before the first home game after Ovechkin reaches the mark.
“We certainly don’t take it for granted, but sometimes it is hard not to,” Capitals President Dick Patrick said. “He’s just been so good for so long. You can rely on him; he comes through every year.”
The team will have a video tribute that will run during the pregame ceremony and determine whom Ovechkin would like to have in attendance. Because of his father’s health, Ovechkin’s parents will not be able to attend, but this is Ovechkin’s first major milestone since the birth of his son, Sergei, so the Capitals want him to be involved somehow.
Teammates have to be recorded as part of the video tributes, and no one has done more such interviews than Backstrom, who quipped earlier in the season that he has to do a video message for Ovechkin “at least once a month.”
“I think we are used to that, too, and I think no one loves it more than him. . . . He deserves it, too, like no one else, so I think I feel like all the guys are happy for him and happy to do those videos,” Backstrom said. “We are excited about that. It’s awesome.”
In late October, Ovechkin scored the 668th and 669th goals of his career, pushing him past Luc Robitaille, who is now president of the Los Angeles Kings, for 12th place on the career list. Robitaille said Ovechkin has been great for the league.
“I’m happy for him,” Robitaille said of Ovechkin passing him on the all-time list. “I knew it was going to happen. I didn’t lose any sleep over it. I just more so enjoy watching him and I think he is a very special player. I get a kick out of watching him. There are few teams where you know you miss a game and say, ‘I’ll watch Washington tonight because he’s fun to watch and one of those players you want to pay to watch play.’ ”
For a handful of Ovechkin’s teammates, watching the captain catch and pass NHL legends — Ovechkin is a goal from tying Mario Lemieux for 10th on the career list — has become almost routine.
“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” defenseman John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either, which is real impressive. I’ve said this before: I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”
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