In a recent interview with TVA Sports, former Washington Capitals defenseman Mathieu Biron shared his memories of playing with Capitals’ Captain Alex Ovechkin during Ovechkin’s first season in the NHL. Biron recalled early practices with the Great 8, Ovechkin’s passion for the game, his early leadership qualities, the goal in Phoenix, and the chase for Gretzky’s career goal record. The following is a translated excerpt of the interview.
Mathieu Biron had the opportunity, through a most privileged seat, to experience the first professional season of Ovechkin very closely. 25 at the time, the former defender spent the entire season with the Caps and remembers very well the enthusiasm aroused by the performances of “this gifted recruit”.
“I heard a lot of people say that this player, whom I had never seen, would be a future star. Except that at the time, players who managed to have an immediate impact in the NHL at 18-19 were very rare. I think of guys like Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton, who had a more difficult first year in the league. But I quickly understood why they were talking about him like that. In an intra-team game, at the very start of training camp, Alex scored a goal and you could see something really unique in his eyes. It was like a volcano about to explode with joy. But it was only an intra-team game! It is the first memory I have of him. I had never seen a player who liked to score so much. Whether in practice or in exhibition games, there was not a single goal that did not please him. He’s like a kid at Christmas every time. It is no coincidence that he scores so much today. ”
He had 10 points, including six goals, in his first eight games.
“From his first professional game, he was already among the best. I recently watched the documentary “The last dance” involving Michael Jordan and we learn that he quickly established himself as the best of his own. It’s really the same story for Alex. After four games, the team was already formed around him. ”
Those who have followed Alex Ovechkin’s career closely remember that the Russian, beyond his phenomenal performance, was also distinguished by his flamboyant style in his first NHL campaign. Biron remembers Ovechkin as a young man who was both extroverted and eager to learn, who did everything to make himself appreciated by veterans.
“He was certainly flamboyant on the ice, but he didn’t speak much English when he arrived. Except he was trying so hard. He wanted to integrate quickly. You immediately saw that he was a good person and that he was making great efforts. ”
Biron then revealed an anecdote of the good intentions that Ovechkin had upon his arrival at the Capitals.
“I remember that at the rookies dinner, he really wanted to speak to all the guys. He then asked Dainius Zubrus to come join him and asked him to translate his words so that the guys understood what he had to say. He then thanked all the players on the team saying that he had been fortunate to learn to play professional hockey with teammates like these. He then said that he had great respect for everyone and that he considered himself lucky to be part of the team. Everyone was really touched. As much as he could be flamboyant on an ice rink, he also knew how to rally the troops. ”
Captain in the making
“It was clear in my mind. He had an incomparable leadership side. It quickly became the face of the franchise. Alex wanted the others to follow him. He wanted to win. Even at 19, he wanted to transport the team. I still make the comparison with Michael Jordan, but these guys are bigger than their sport. When we lost 4-3, he wanted to be on the ice. In fact, he still wanted to be, but you could tell he really wanted to make a difference. He wanted the puck. He wanted to take THE shot of the match. Some are fearful in this kind of situation, but Alex fed on these types of moments. I think you see the light of day with this trait … “
“Gretzky applauded him”
“The famous goal he scored lying on his back in Phoenix … I will never forget it! It is the goal of a decade! Spectators in Phoenix stood up and cheered on Alex as their team lost 4-1. Wayne Gretzky was the Coyotes coach at the time, and he applauded the goal that Ovi had just scored against him! The opposing players came to congratulate him. Everyone took a break from the confrontation, realizing that this type of moment would not happen again anytime soon. It was a more important moment than the game.“
“When you live a grand moment, you must know how to appreciate it. The coach and the opposing players who applaud the goal of a player who faces them, you do not see that often …He granted an interview after that goal and it made no sense!”, Laughs Biron.
“He was so excited he was looking for his words!” He had to say “oh wow” 20 times during the two minutes of the interview. He was making the sounds of a two-year-old child so happy he was. We understood absolutely nothing of his words. When he returned to the locker room, everyone laughed loudly. We teased him for a long time. ”
Know how to adapt
Alex Ovechkin has always scored goals. This is what he can do best. He also always knew how to write his name on the score sheet, or apply a good check.
But he was never recognized as a great defensive player. However, he understood, at some point, that he also had to get involved in his territory to offer his team an optimal chance of winning.
“At 19, 20 or 21, it is true that Alex did not have great defensive responsibilities. But he changed his game in some way. He ended up mastering this facet more with maturity. He’s not trying to be less offensive, however. He understood what it really took to win a championship. ”
A record within reach?
15 years have passed since Alex Ovechkin started in the NHL. As of today, he has an impressive 706 goals in the NHL. In this season, he has joined and surpassed several of the big names in hockey in the top scorers of all time. Many wonder if he will ever be able to beat the all-time record held by Wayne Gretzky, who has 894 career nets.
What does his ex-teammate think?
“It’s a great question!” But just the fact that he has eight 50-goal seasons, it’s incredible. In modern hockey, only Steven Stamkos and Dany Heatley have more than one 50-goal campaigns. And they have two. It shows how much Alex is above the competition. When you talk about exceptional markers, you have guys like Mike Bossy and Brett Hull. Alex is part of that group. These are phenomena.”
It remains to be seen if Ovechkin will one day be able to beat the record of the one who applauded him 15 years earlier, during a certain match played in Phoenix …
You can read the full interview here.