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.”
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.