Alex Ovechkin and Nastya Ovechkina had dinner with Wayne Gretzky, his wife Janet, and his son Ty Gretzky in March 2016 while the Capitals were on a West Coast road trip. The dinner, organized by Janet, pitted two of the greatest goal-scorers of all-time across the table from each other for the first time at Nobu Malibu.
What struck Gretzky during the dinner was just how little Ovechkin cared about individual accolades or how he could improve on the ice.
— NHL (@NHL) April 20, 2020
“The thing that I found so fascinating about Alex wasn’t so much about individualism, scoring goals, or becoming a better player,” Gretzky said. “The whole night was questions about what can I do or what do I need to do as captain to help get our team over the hump? What can I do to help contribute to winning the Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals and the city of Washington? I remember leaving there thinking, ‘Wow, this is so unique. We could have talked about anything: goals, assists, games, memories. And really Alex, the only thing he had on his mind was ‘I have to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Washington.’ For me, that was one of the great parts of the whole evening, and I knew then and there, leaving the restaurant that one day he going to lift the Stanley Cup.”
At that point in his career, Ovechkin had long been characterized by national media as a selfish player who was hard to coach. Ovechkin had not gotten past the second round of the playoffs in seven different tries.
“That question was because we have bad playoffs time,” Ovechkin said. “We maybe passed the first round but could never get past second round. I ask him advice like, ‘How do I have to react?’ ‘What do I tell the team?’ I think his advice he give me helped. Obviously, it has to be lots of good reasons for us to win the Cup. It’s not only one guy can win it. It has to be the whole team. I think that most of the guys that have been on championship teams realize it doesn’t matter now who scores or who was on the ice. Everybody have to support each other… [Wayne] knows how to win. Back then, I only win individual awards but I never win Stanley Cup. My dream was Stanley Cup. So I asked him what I can do better and what I have to do better to bring Stanley Cup home.”
The Capitals would lose to the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins a few months later in the second round and they would do so again the very next year. But in 2018, the Capitals finally got over the hump, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
Ovechkin was named MVP and received the Conn Smythe Trophy. Later, Gretzky mailed him the game-used stick he scored his 807th goal with after promising to give it to Ovi as a gift if he could win a championship.
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