ARLINGTON, Va. — Watching from the Glendale Arena press box, George McPhee saw his young star’s every move. He watched as Alex Ovechkin got tangled up with Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Paul Mara, fell to the ice and shot the puck into the net from a near-impossible angle on his back.
McPhee, then the Washington Capitals‘ general manager, said to himself: “This is going to resonate.”
It did. The highlight-reel goal on Jan. 16, 2006, exemplified the 20-year-old Ovechkin’s absurd ability.
“You could really feel the announcement of the superstar,” Capitals teammate Brooks Laich said. “That moment, 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.’ You could feel it in the building as clear as day.”
Ten years later, “The Goal” still resonates.
Among the 500-plus Ovechkin has scored in his career, many have been more significant, but the acrobatic goal on Jan. 16, 2006 remains his most spectacular.
At the time, Ovechkin called it the best goal he ever scored – and he still believes that.
“Obviously lucky, but I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “For that moment, it was unbelievable time. My dream was come true: I play in the NHL, I did that kind of special goal and Gretzky was there, as well.”
The “Great One” witnessing Ovechkin’s goal in his first season as Coyotes coach is part of its lore.
“As he’s skating to the bench, Gretzky was coaching and right on the bench said, ‘Good goal,”’ former Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “Even their players commented on it.”
After the game, a 6-1 Washington victory, Gretzky said the goal was “pretty sweet.” High praise from the NHL’s all-time goals leader who scored 894 of them.
“He’s a phenomenal player, and he’s been a tremendous influence in the game,” Gretzky said. “It’s great to see because he is that good.”
Even though Washington didn’t win many games that season on the way to another last-place finish, teammates knew Ovechkin was special. The goal just validated their beliefs.
It was 5-1 when Ovechkin streaked down the ice looking for his second goal of the game and 32nd of the season. Coyotes goaltender Brian Boucher prepared for Ovechkin to shoot off the rush and instead watched helplessly as he one-handed the puck in.
“I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous,”’ Boucher said. “I was mad, and I’m looking at it and I’m like: ‘That’s ridiculous. How does a guy do that?’ Maybe (fans) didn’t even realize in real time how amazing that goal was. But I know that once they showed the replay, the crowd went like, ‘Woah.”’
Laich remembers the arena going silent in stunned amazement. Jeff Halpern, the Capitals’ captain in 2005-06, was out with a knee injury watched as former NHL goalie Darren Pang went over the replay repeatedly in the Coyotes’ broadcast booth.
“Like everybody else, they couldn’t figure out how he scored and what even just happened,” Halpern said. “To hear Panger get excited by it every time he watched it and trying to figure it out, that was pretty neat.”
Everyone, Ovechkin included, needed to watch the replay to appreciate it. Laich described Ovechkin as “tumbleweed and dust – and all of a sudden the puck was in the net” and Hanlon could only muster, “Holy mackerel.”
“He never gave up on that,” McPhee said. “That’s why he’s a great goal-scorer: He just has a phenomenal shot, but it’s the desire to score. He’s always been so hungry to score.”
Ovechkin finished with 54 goals in his first NHL season and beat out Sidney Crosby for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. While Crosby was considered a generational talent, “The Goal” against the Coyotes likely turned the tide in that rookie of the year race.
In the decade since, Ovechkin has joined the 500-goal club and won three Hart Trophies as NHL MVP. And on every NHL highlight reel about amazing feats or recapping his career, there is Ovechkin, on his back, scoring the goal that announced his arrival as a star. And the goalie who gave it up, doesn’t mind all the reruns.
“Whenever you see highlight shows, ‘Most famous goals’ or whatever, it always seems to crack the top 10,” Boucher said. “Even though I’m on the bad end of it, it’s always pretty cool to see it.”