Over the holidays we’ll be re-visiting Sportsnet staff writers’ favourite pieces from 2017. Today: Luke Fox explains why writing about Alex Ovechkin’s three called shots for a young cancer survivor was his favourite moment.
The great sportswriting myth is that there’s no cheering in the press box.
It’s not players or laundry we invisibly fist-pump for, however. It’s our stories, especially when we must file at the buzzer – a tricky and oftentimes stressful time constraint new to me this winter.
Contrary to the belief of conspiracy hunters, we’re not trying to impose our narratives upon the game but rather attempting to seek out the best tale that’s already there and, if we’re lucky, make it sing.
Too many times, as my friend Chris Johnston says, “it’s like fighting a bear” and you pack up your laptop feeling like Leo DiCaprio without the trophies. Other nights, the good ones, it’s simply connect-the-dots. Tracing versus freehand.
Such was the case on Nov. 25 in Toronto. Alex Ovechkin invites 13-year-old cancer survivor and Capitals fan Alex Luey to the hockey game, promises the kid a goal, and scores two beautiful ones early, penning my column for me.
The Maple Leafs yank their goalie and press to tie. Fingers tapping away, I’m probably not the first person in a rink to root for Washington to not choke, but I’m also greedy. I want Ovie — seldom deployed when defence is the top priority — to pot the empty-netter and complete the hat trick.
He delivers for his team, his inspiring fan, and, to a much lesser extent, Sportsnet.ca.
You can’t write this stuff. You can’t not write this stuff.
All the words are there. I just have to muck up some commas.
Afterward, Big Alex signs half the gear in his hockey bag, gives it to Little Alex, and spends every moment before rushing to the team bus chatting with Luey’s family and posing for countless photos. On the ice he put on a show, but this is no show. Sincerely, Ovie says he can’t remember the last time he got an empty-netter.
Luey’s dad — a big Canadian man wrapped in a red Capitals sweater — turns to the Russian and says, “Thank you for taking care of my boy.”
Then karma and fate conspired to touch Hockey Fights Cancer Night.
As Leafs Nation began booing Ovechkin, their playoff nemesis seven months ago, he gathered the puck at his own blue line, darted through the neutral zone, then wristed one past Curtis McElhinney low-blocker off the rush, using defenceman Morgan Rielly as a screen.
“Sometimes, you’re just feeling it,” said Ovechkin, smiling. “Back to 19 years old. Flying, make a move, a shot… sometimes you feel great.”
In celebration of his 574th goal — a wonderful solo effort that hopped him over no less than Hall of Famer Mike Bossy to rank 21st on the NHL’s all-time goals list — Ovechkin pointed up to Luey and his family in the stands. The kid told the hockey star where he’s be sitting.
“It’s history,” Ovechkin said.