Paul Mara

My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie in 2006

Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, James O’Brien remembers Alex Ovechkin‘s sprawling goal against the Coyotes during his rookie season in 2006.

The greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen scored the greatest goal I’ve ever seen.

Hockey generally isn’t a sport that’s friendly to stars shining with huge individual moments, at least not compared to other sports. That’s what makes all of the symmetry so special, why even Ovechkin struggles to explain how he did it, and how his Capitals teammates couldn’t even replicate the moment in practice.

Unlike some other favorite goals, Ovechkin’s goal wasn’t directly important. It wasn’t even important in the game it happened; his crummy Capitals were already up 5-1 against the also-crummy Coyotes on Jan. 16, 2006 when Ovechkin scored “the goal.”

Ovechkin snatched the puck in the neutral zone, blasted past defenseman Paul Mara with a curl-and-drag move, but Mara took Ovechkin off of his feet. That should have been the end of it: a blur of speed and power that served as a reminder that Ovechkin can make something out of nothing.

And then he really made something out nothing.

Ovechkin was essentially spinning on his back and neck, yet he somehow found a way to not only get a shot off, but to hook his arm in a way that sent the puck right into the net. A sprawling Brian Boucher couldn’t do anything about it, and even Wayne Gretzky had to marvel at the replay during his darkest hockey days as coach of the Coyotes.

Gretzky’s face would be our face … if his jaw also hit the floor.

Ovechkin’s goal against the Coyotes was one of those albums that only gets better the more you listen to it, or a movie that only improves with further viewings. What I’m saying is that it was “The Big Lebowski” of goals.

Brooks Laich really tied the explanation together when he explained what made it so special to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan in a great retrospective of its 10-year anniversary in 2016:

” … This had so many facets: cutting across the ice, pulling the puck in tight, getting hit by a defender, rolling away from the net and facing away from the net and then hooking your arm around and getting it on the puck and directing it into the net,” Laich said. “There were so many variables in that goal that you really had to watch it so many times to really understand how special it was.”

What it meant to Ovechkin

“The goal” came at a powerful time for Ovechkin during a rookie season where he’d ultimately beat out Sidney Crosby for the 2005-06 Calder Trophy.

Ovechkin managed his first hat trick during the game before “the goal,” scoring three against the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Jan. 13, 2006. Managing a goal like that against the Coyotes, and doing so in front of Gretzky, had to feel like a “you made it” moment for Ovechkin as a rookie.

“Obviously lucky, but I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said, via the Canadian Press’ Stephen Whyno in 2016. “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.”

It’s tough to argue with former Capitals GM George McPhee’s assessment of Ovechkin: that he’s just that hungry to score goals.

“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.”

Zooming out

You might compare Ovechkin’s unthinkable goal to Odell Beckham Jr.’s seemingly impossible one-handed catch from November 2014. Both were superb physical talents doing impossible things, even as rookies, providing highlights that became downright iconic. Each player also can’t claim that the specific highlight reel moment was that important, as neither player’s team made the playoffs that year, and Beckham Jr.’s Giants even lost that game.

In considering Ovechkin’s goal, something emerged from my heart — or maybe my subconscious — for me, and maybe other hockey fans of a certain age, the early days of Ovechkin – Crosby had parallels to Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire.

After an ugly MLB strike, the baseball world was captivated by Sosa and McGwire trading homers, and drumming their race quite amicably. The NHL needed its own ray of sunshine after the abominable full-season lockout of 2004-05, and it got some help from a bucket of goals (plus, not coincidentally, more penalties), but also the promise of two budding young superstars in Crosby and Ovechkin. Some grumbled at all the attention they received. Yet, in retrospect, those grumblings should have been silenced by that absolutely ridiculous sprawling goal.

That it happened in what was essentially garbage time made it powerful in its own way: if you miss a game, you might miss Ovechkin or some other superstar pulling off something mind-blowing.

The Ovechkin goal didn’t “save hockey,” nor did the Crosby – Ovechkin rivalry, or even any series or team.

That goal was a big part of soothing my hockey soul, as was that thrilling, and wild season. Although, come to think of it … maybe my jaw pops because of all the times it hit the floor while I stopped, paused, and rewound that astonishing video.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Veteran blueliner Mara signs with ECHL team

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Paul Mara — a 13-year NHL veteran with over 700 games on his resume — has agreed to a contract with the Ontario Reign, the ECHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.

“Mara’s experience will definitely help us on the back end this year,” head coach Jason Christie said in a release. “With Paul coming in, he has a pretty calm demeanor about him and he has played at the highest level possible; it’s good for guys sitting in the locker room to have that kind of presence.”

Mara, 33, didn’t play at all during last season — his last NHL action came during the 2010-11 campaign, when he appeared in 53 games for the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens.

He spent 2011-12 coaching the Bourne (MA) High hockey team, but didn’t officially retire from the game.

Prior to taking the Bourne gig, Mara said there were contract talks with the Rangers and a couple other teams. But after interviewing for and receiving his first-ever coaching job, he decided to commit to being a bench boss.

“I was still training as if I was going to go back and play, and then this job opening came up,” he told Cape Cod Online. “When something comes across your head and your heart –- and that’s what you want –- I jumped at it. I had the interview process and I was lucky enough to get the job.”

The Reign open their ECHL campaign on Saturday, Oct. 13 against the Stockton Thunder.

Glen Sather: No timetable for Marc Staal’s return

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Marc Staal’s absence in New York thanks to post-concussion issues have been a serious issue for the Rangers to get a handle on. While Staal has struggled to get a handle on things in his recovery, the Rangers are showing now that they’re a bit more than worried about his condition.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that the Rangers will be calling up rookie Tim Erixon to play in the team’s games in Europe. He also reports that they are in talks with free agent defenseman Paul Mara to try and bring him back and give the Rangers a bit more depth defensively and a NHL-ready guy to play for them.

Why the sudden and drastic moves though? Worse yet, Brooks gets word from Rangers GM Glen Sather that things with Staal are very much up in the air as to when he’ll be able to come back.

“Doctors have said that it could be a week, but it could also be a month,” Sather said of the No. 1 defenseman, who has been receiving treatment back home. “I wish we had something absolute, but we don’t.

“If Marc’s out for a substantial length of time, it’s going to have an impact on our club, no doubt about that. He’s our top defenseman, one of our top players, gets the most ice time and is always on against the other team’s top players.

“But it’s something we’ll just have to deal with.”

Deal with it, yes. Do well without him though? That’ll take a true team effort.

Staal’s struggles with post-concussion symptoms have been a big problem for the Rangers and given how he was set to go at the start of training camp seemingly without a problem, you have to wonder if perhaps the Rangers just didn’t know how bad off Staal was or if they weren’t paying attention to how Sidney Crosby has been watched closely in Pittsburgh to ensure he doesn’t come back too soon.

Either way this is now a big problem for the Rangers. Without a timetable for his return, the Rangers are without their top defenseman for an unknown amount of time. Guys like Erixon and Mara, should he sign, can only patch things up in the mean time. If the Rangers are going to be a threat for the Stanley Cup this season, they’re going to have to do it getting out on the wrong foot.

Assessing the bottom of the barrel: Which remaining unrestricted free agents are worth a look?

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With September training camps just a few weeks away, the game of musical chairs is almost over for the remaining unrestricted free agents out there. Granted, there might be future opportunities during the 2011-12 season itself, but that’s probably not a very appetizing possibility for the guys who are hoping to pull in another NHL contract.

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of no-brainers left. Some might argue that there are none. That being said, if NHL general managers are willing to keep their expectations in order, there are still a few players out there who could help their teams or might at least be worth a shot.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more interesting free agents looking for work. This list is wholly subjective, so if you want a full view of everyone available, click here. If you notice a glaring omission, then it might come down to your own personal taste about a given hockey player. It’s probably worth noting that there are only a couple players whose lack of employment surprises me, though.

Let’s start with the guys who might not make a huge splash, but can do dirty work.

John Madden – This guy might be the most deserving of an NHL job. Sure, he’s getting up there in years at 38, but he shouldn’t come at a high cost and has three Stanley Cup victories (two with New Jersey, one with Chicago) on his resume.

More important than the Cups – to me, at least – is his versatility. He won’t knock your socks off with his offensive output (25 points in 2010-11; 23 in both 09-10 and 08-09), but he can be a moderate threat on the PK and plays a lot of the tough minutes that can open doors for your star players. I wondered if he really dropped off the map that badly in Minnesota, but he was their top forward when it came to shorthanded time per game (2:27 minutes) and only missed six games last season.

source: APAny number of contenders could use a player like Madden if he’s OK with signing a cheapish deal. Mike Grier brings some similar strengths to the table, but I’d take Madden over Grier at this point.

Paul Mara – He’s a limited player no doubt, but there are certain defensemen I like to refer to as “inning eaters.” Mara might not be sublimely talented – and worse yet, he’s injury prone – but teams with thinner defense corps would benefit from his size and experience. And while it might feel like it happened ages ago, Mara does have two 40+ point seasons to his name.

Cory Stillman – It’s a slight bit surprising that the familiarity-centric Carolina Hurricanes didn’t bring Stillman back after he scored a solid 16 points in 21 games after the team reacquired him last season.

J.P. Dumont – Sure, he’s on the decline, but why not give the six-time 20+ goal scorer a chance if he’s willing to sign a  cheap deal?

More talented players with more troubling flaws

Bryan McCabe – Anything bad someone could say about McCabe has already been covered with extra buckets of vitriol by Toronto Maple Leafs writers and fans. Still, he can run a power play well and isn’t afraid to get physical when he’s not committing terrible turnovers.

Sergei Samsonov – Offensively talented, but not enough to camouflage his issues in other areas on the ice. That being said, he seems to do well when he knows it’s time to prove himself; he scored a solid 14 points in the 20 games he spent with the Florida Panthers after being traded.

Chris Campoli – A lot like a younger Bryan McCabe, only if you replaced the hits with superior skating ability. I’m not a huge fan of Campoli, but it seems like someone should give him a shot, right? Maybe?

Fascinating gambles

Pascal Leclaire – Almost certainly a flash in the pan at this point, but seems worthy of at least a two-way contract if Brian Elliott can earn one of his own.

Steve Bernier – Remember when people referred to Jonathan Bernier as Steve’s younger brother? Chances are good that Steve will be a footnote in Jonathan’s career when it’s all over instead.

Other noteworthy names: Marty Turco, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Modano and more.

Feel free to mention any UFAs who might be worth a small gamble for prospective NHL teams.

Not surprisingly, the Habs are surprised by Mark Recchi’s comments about Max Pacioretty

People who recently suffered concussions clearly cannot go to movies.

That is the medical opinion of potential Hall of Fame winger Mark Recchi, who fanned the flames of Boston conspiracy theories that the Montreal Canadiens “embellished” the injuries suffered by Max Pacioretty after that Zdeno Chara hit.

While Joe Haggerty writes that Recchi knows exactly what he was doing by saying that, the Canadiens largely couldn’t follow the aging veteran’s logic. While head coach Jacques Martin and nearly-Chara-sized defenseman Hal Gill were coy in their responses to Recchi’s rabble rousing remarks, Paul Mara responded for ESPN Boston while Michael Cammalleri discussed Recchi’s statements in the Boston Globe.

First, here are Cammalleri’s comments. The back end of his commentary responds to the idea that Recchi was saying these (largely ridiculous) things to stir the pot.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Cammalleri said. “I don’t think those comments are appropriate by Mark. Surprised, to be honest with you. Mark’s a guy who’s been around a long time. I’m not sure he has a medical degree yet. I think it is what it is when it comes to the brain. These are very unclear injuries and very serious ones. I think it’s a little bit disrespectful with those comments, that’s for sure. A little bit surprised coming from a guy with the reputation that he has.”

(snip)

“It might be,” said Cammalleri. “That’s why it’s surprising to me, because Mark’s a veteran. He does have a reputation. He’s been around so long. It might be. I don’t know. I think Mark would admit he’s not an M.D. He’s not diagnosing these things. Maybe it is a bit of gamesmanship.”

Moving on, here were Mara’s thoughts.

“We heard those comments yesterday,” Montreal blueliner Paul Mara said Thursday morning in advance of the game between the Bruins and Canadiens at TD Garden. “A player with a broken vertebra and has been knocked out on the ice for 3 or 4 minutes, how do you question the integrity of a hockey team and that we’re embellishing it? [It] is really questionable coming from a guy who’s 42 years old and has been around the league for so long. He’s entitled to his opinion and we’re entitled to ours, but in Montreal we really know the truth.”

It’s no surprise that the Canadiens are surprised by Recchi’s comments since most people in hockey were probably at least a bit stunned by it.

The Habs and Bruins shouldn’t need much bulletin board material considering the fact that the Northeast Division should be the only dangling carrot necessary, but these comments and the bitterness lingering over that hit should fuel whatever fires that aren’t started by standings points. It could be a great match, one that might even factor into which team has home ice advantage if the the two teams meet in the playoffs.