Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the third time of his career on March 19, 2009. In a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ovechkin skated the puck into the offensive zone against three Lightning defenders.
“I just remember him having so much speed in the neutral zone,” Mike McKenna, the goaltender who would get scored on, said to the CBC for a new episode of I Was In Net For. “It always makes you nervous as a goalie with somebody coming at you so quickly because the angle changes very quickly.”
Ovechkin ripped a shot to the top corner of the net for no. 50.
“At that time, he was still shooting the puck a ton on the rush,” McKenna said. “I think now everybody thinks of him as a one-timer guy, which he is, but man, he was crushing guys on the rush. He comes flying through. I can’t remember the defenseman in front of me (Lucas Krajicek), but right next to his feet and his stick. The fact that he shot in stride, on the rush, and right by the D’s feet, I kind of froze because I didn’t get a clean read. Just over the glove, it’s in the net.”
It’s what happened afterward that made it one of Ovi’s most historic and memorable goals of his career.
To celebrate, Ovechkin dropped his stick to the ice and tried to warm his hands like it was on fire. It became known as the hot stick celebration.
“I turned around to get a drink out of my water bottle,” McKenna, a journeyman who played for 24 professional hockey teams including seven in the NHL, said. “I look over with the corner of my eye. I see this going on. I’m like, ‘What is he doing?’ I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I saw him motion for teammates to join him and everybody just looked at him. I think it was Mike Green, just kind of, looking at him and thinking like ‘I don’t think I’m going to get involved in this.’
“I was mad about it. I felt like, I’m already embarrassed enough. It’s my first year. I’m trying my best out here and this guy’s crushing me,” McKenna added. “I honestly think if I’d been comfortable in the league, I would have slashed his stick to the next zip code. You know what I mean? That’s your in-the-moment reaction. You’re mad. It’s a big what the f*ck moment, really.”
McKenna said that if the moment would have happened in the American Hockey League — he had been playing for the Norfolk Admirals earlier in the season — “I would have done anything” to pay Ovechkin back for the perceived disrespect. Instead, he saw himself as “an absolute pheasant” in the NHL, who was powerless in the moment.
“I’m probably lucky I got this break in the first place,” McKenna said. “I don’t want to known as the guy who 1) got hot-sticked and then 2) 10 games into his career, broke Ovechkin’s wrist for doing it.”
While Ovechkin’s creative celebration was well-received by fans, the young superstar was heavily criticized by the Lightning and many more traditional media across the NHL.
“I think he’s a terrific player. He went down a notch in my books after that,” Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet said at the time. “It’s not something I like.”
“Think how bad the rookie feels?” Don Cherry said on Coach’s Corner. “You can’t do stuff like that and not make people feel bad.”
“I wasn’t surprised by the media criticizing him that hard,” McKenna said. “It’s funny, Don Cherry defended my dignity on Hockey Night In Canada. I never expected my name to be mentioned by Don Cherry.”
But eventually, McKenna cooled off and began to appreciate the moment. Ovechkin approached the goalie off the ice a week or so later.
“We talked about it,” McKenna said. “I’ll never forget saying hi and him saying, ‘I did not mean to embarrass or disrespect you or anything. I thought we were having fun.’ He was apologetic about it that it made me look bad or possibly feel bad about it. And you know what? I was totally cool with it. For him to even take that time to be a human and say this is what I was feeling in the moment, I have a hard time holding that against anybody, especially if they can have the humility to think ‘maybe it wasn’t nice or right or whatever.'”
The celly was added into official NHL video games.
Now McKenna enjoys seeing replays of the goal.
“For a couple years every time I’d see it, it was like CLUNK, awww it’s me again,” McKenna said. “It’s a cool moment. This is a historical moment in the NHL that I was a part of. It may not have been for the reasons I wanted it to, I didn’t win a Stanley Cup or make a great save, but it’s amazing now when I meet people and I would go to teams later on, eventually they’d always find out. ‘Oh my god that was YOU.’ Everybody. Every single time. I look back on it and I smile. I’m proud to be a part of that now.”
Screenshot courtesy of CBC
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