What Gretzky and Ovechkin respect most about each other as players

A star-studded episode of Hockey at Home as host Kathryn Tappen is joined by all-time greats Alexander Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky.

Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin sat down with Kathryn Tappen for an interview that covered a wide variety of topics. Watch the full episode of “Hockey at Home: Gretzky and Ovi” above.

Alex Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky figure to be tied together in hockey history forever.

One is the all-time leading goal scorer, and the other is closing in on that mark. While Gretzky has 894 goals in retirement, Ovechkin crossed the 700-goal mark this season, is by far the best goal scorer of his generation, and now sits 188 behind Gretzky.

That’s still a tall number, sure, but Ovechkin will be 35 years old at the start of next season and is showing no signs of slowing. Before the NHL had to pause its season, Ovechkin was on track for his second consecutive 50-goal campaign. He’s got a legitimate shot to get there in a few years and Gretzky, for one, hopes he does it.

Each is tied to the other and both hold a special place in hockey history, even as Ovechkin continues to write his story. But what do the two respect most about each other as players?

“I think his vision of the game. I think how he controlled the game,” Ovechkin said about what he admired most about watching Gretzky in his heyday. “How he gets different players better around him. That’s a special talent. I think the guys who played with him are lucky because they get lots of points, lots of Cups, and to be with him on one team is a great story when you retire.

“You’re going to tell your grandkid, ‘You know what? I played with Wayne Gretzky and he passed me the puck.’ It’s tremendous.”

Of course, while Ovechkin is chasing one of Gretzky’s records, No. 99 will still hold plenty of others when it comes time for Ovechkin to retire. No one, for instance, is touching the all-time points or assists record any time soon, and it’s hard to envision even Ovechkin scoring 50 goals in 39 games.

The two are very different types of players coming from entirely different eras. While Ovechkin’s strength is in his goal scoring and how he can engage opponents physically with his massive 6-foot-3, 236-pound frame, Gretzky played during a higher scoring period of NHL history and relied on his creativity and vision.

“I think his style of the game, he was not that physical but he was smart on the ice,” Ovechkin said. “You can see his highlights. Every time he had the puck, something was gonna happen. It’s tremendous to watch. It’s fun to watch.”

Gretzky, of course, is still keenly watching Ovechkin play. He’s seen a ton of change in the way the game is played since retiring in 1999, not only because of new rules, but also because of how much bigger, faster and more fit players in the league are today.

And sometimes an 82-game NHL season can be a grind, but at the root of what Gretzky respects most about Ovechkin is how he wears his passion for hockey on his sleeve.

“His love for the game, you can’t hide that,” Gretzky said. “I compare that to Gordie Howe, Mark Messier. Just a pure joy and love. Every time he gets on the ice you can see him smiling.”

Further to that, Gretzky sees in Ovechkin something you can only get from truly special players. He’s different in how he accomplishes his greatness. No one can do what Ovechkin does and, after 15 years in the NHL, the impact he’s had on the league is undeniable.

Gretzky had a few examples of how Ovechkin fits into this unique group.

“It’s really difficult for a winger to have an impact in an entire team and an entire league,” Gretzky said. “It’s a little bit tougher than being a centreman. And there’s only a few guys in hockey history — Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur — those guys, they changed the game.

“I can remember five years ago people saying to me, ‘Do you think Alex Ovechkin should be two minutes on the power play’ and I remember saying, ‘Of course! He should be out there the whole power play every power play.’ That’s what he does. He generates offence and he generates plays for each and every one of his teammates. I said this to my son the other day: they know exactly where he’s gonna be, they know exactly what he’s gonna do and he still scores 60 goals a year.

“That’s special. I admire him. I love watching him play and I think he’s been a huge impact on our game to the positive.”

When Gretzky was asked how his game would have changed if he had shared a line with Ovechkin in his prime, No. 99 said his approach wouldn’t have changed but “I’d have a lot more assists.”

Scary thought, given Gretzky already has more assists than any other player has ever produced points.

Hear the full conversation via the video player atop this post, as the two all-time greats discuss:

• What advice Gretzky gave Ovechkin in his pursuit of Goal No. 700
• What they talked about the first time they met over dinner a few years ago
• What it’s like being a father at different stages
• What it was like lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time
• Which two players, past or present, they would like to sit beside in a dressing room

Whenever The Great One and The Great Eight get together, it’s wise to pay attention. And lucky for hockey fans, the two legends have two dates together this coming week.

On top of this interview, Gretzky and Ovechkin will face off against one another in a best-of-3 series on EA Sports’ NHL 20 Wednesday night. That will be shown on the Capitals’ Twitch stream on April 22 at 8 p.m. ET and fans will be encouraged to make a charitable donation for COVID-19 relief.


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