Friday night, the game’s greatest player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, was at Verizon Center for the Oilers’ game against the Washington Capitals. Gretzky, who currently serves as a partner and vice chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group, has been traveling with the team this week, which includes the Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Wednesday.
During the game, Gretzky sat in the Owners Box with Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. Pre-game, The Great One conducted an interview with a man that worshipped him as a kid, CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Alan May.
Gretzky spoke about Alex Ovechkin’s deep desire to win the Stanley Cup, saying that the Russian machine “would do and pretty much give up anything and everything to get his name on a Stanley Cup.” Gretzky also said Braden Holtby is “one of the best goaltenders I’ve seen in a long time.”
What was your experience like as a head coach of the Metropolitan Division All-Stars?
Wayne Gretzky: “I really had probably more fun at the All-Star Game than anybody. I got asked the million dollar question [which] seemed to be, ‘Would Ovechkin and Crosby play together?’ Everybody wanted to see it. I said, ‘I learned really quickly in my life, you give the people what they want.’ I wasn’t going to be the guy that didn’t put them together. I was really impressed by each and every guy who was at the All-Star Game, how intense they were – how much they did care about the game. I was impressed by the size, the speed, everything that goes with it. I just thought it was a tremendous privilege and honor to be a part of it.”
What do you appreciate about Alex Ovechkin?
Wayne Gretzky: “Well, listen, it’s no secret to anybody that I love the way he plays and I’m a big fan of his and I’m a good friend of his. What I love most about Alex [Ovechkin] is that he wants to win a Stanley Cup. There’s a lot of guys that say they do, but that really deep down maybe they don’t. He’s one guy that would do and pretty much give up anything and everything to get his name on a Stanley Cup. Those are the kind of guys, kind of leaders that you want in your organization. The thing I appreciate most about his game is that he plays hard each and every night. The greatest compliment we can get as a professional athlete is when people comes up to you and say ‘You know what, I saw you play and you worked really hard.’ That’s what Alex does every game. We have bad games. We all have off nights. He thrives under pressure. He knows that he’s the focus of this hockey club; they’re having another spectacular year. They’re well coached. They have one of the best goaltenders I’ve seen in a long time. This Washington team is going to be hard to beat. I think they’re going to have a nice run in the playoffs and I wish them all the best.”
What impresses you the most about Connor McDavid?
Wayne Gretzky: “Geez, he brings you out of your seat each and every game. We’re lucky in this game from Crosby and Ovechkin, and now with Connor and Auston Matthews in Toronto. I’m so impressed by how they play, but the maturity of these young men and how they handle the media, and how they live in their communities, and how much they love playing the game of hockey and playing in the National Hockey League. They deserve a great deal of credit. Not only them, but their parents and their families. What Connor does is so unique. He can do something so special each and every night. I never got a chance to play against Bobby Orr – I only saw him as a child. People who I’ve been around the hockey world for a long time – I played with Paul Coffey and Mark Messier – claim that Bobby Orr was the greatest skater that ever played the game. If he was a better skater and a faster skater than Connor McDavid, he must have been something really special because you’ll see this young man get the puck and he goes to another gear like I’ve never seen. One of the things he does so well, he doesn’t waste a lot of time stickhandling with the puck. A lot of kids in youth hockey, they get the puck they want to stickhandle. It’s like a soccer ball, if you kick the soccer ball and chase it, you’re going to go a lot faster than if you’re handling it in your feet. And that’s what Connor does. You watch him closely: he pushes the puck, he gets people on their heels, he gets forwards and defensemen on their heels, and he drives the net all the time. He’s very intelligent hockey sense and he plays the game hard all the time.”
Where do the Capitals have to do to win the Cup?
“Well, listen, I think for them, they would tell you this to a man. They’ve been in this situation before. The 80 games don’t mean a while lot. What it means is you get your legs comfortable, you get your feet wet, and you get playing on all cylinders come that last 15-20 games heading into the playoffs. There’s no question they’ve got a little bit of a monkey on their back, but they know that. They’re big boys. They understand that. What they have? They have a really good coaching staff and experienced players. And like I said, I think Alex is a tremendous leader. He plays hard. He works hard all the time. And I’m so impressed by Holtby. I think he’s one of the best young goaltenders I’ve seen in a long time. In this day and age, you have to play as a team and they’re doing that. You have to have a star player playing his best and you have to have a good goaltender. They have all the ingredients now. Now it’s a matter of them going out there and putting it all together.”
After the interview, Gretzky took a photo with May (who later took a photo with me – you personally can decide on who Alan was more lucky to get a photo with).
— Alan May (@MayHockeyCSN) February 24, 2017
Ted Leonsis also posted a photo of Wayne and himself holding up their antique phones.
True tech titans. pic.twitter.com/JBYPVYCbfm
— Ted Leonsis (@TedLeonsis) February 25, 2017
Friday was also the 35th anniversary of Gretzky breaking the NHL single-season goal record. The Great One scored his 77th goal to break Phil Esposito’s record set with the Boston Bruins in 1970-71. He would later score two more goals after that in a 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres. The game was held at Memorial Auditorium on February 24, 1982.
— Frameworth (@FrameworthSport) February 24, 2017
Headline photo: @GarthBrooks
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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