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Alex Ovechkin’s ascension to the 800-goal club and continued chase of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 Goals Scored has captured the attention of the hockey world, and his recent achievement has drawn congratulations from teammates past and present among others.
One of the those teammates who has seen firsthand the brilliance of The Great Eight’s goal-scoring prowess is longtime Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich, who, behind current teammates Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson, has played the most games as a teammate of Ovechkin (in parts of 12 seasons in a Caps sweater). In a recent appearance on the Daily Faceoff Podcast with Frank Seravelli and [Jason] Gregor, Laich reflected on his time playing alongside Ovechkin and his continual climb up the NHL record books.
“He was kind of naive in a beautiful way”, Laich responded when asked to describe his first impression of Ovechkin, “I don’t know that he knew, like as a Canadian kid coming in you know every single player, you know who they are, you know how good they are and sometimes that’s limiting like ‘oh, this guy’s really good’. I don’t know that he knew a single goaltender or a defenseman or like who Scott Stevens was and that he should keep his head up around this guy. I don’t think he knew a lot of that. And he just went out and just torched the league.”
Laich, who played a total of 742 games as a member of the Capitals after being acquired during the 2003-04 season for franchise great Peter Bondra, doesn’t believe that there will be another player like Ovechkin.
“…There was no fear. There were no nerves. There was uber-excitement and he had supreme confidence. Which I think is very difficult for young players coming into the league to have that supreme confidence right away […]. I don’t know that there has ever been or ever will be just that supreme combination (referring to Ovechkin’s blend of offensive talent and physicality). He probably had more hits than he’s even been given credit for. [Former Caps forward] Boyd Gordon said somebody needs to leave the building on a stretcher in the Verizon Center [now Capital One Arena] for somebody to get a hit.
“Ovi hit everything that moved his first three years. He shot every puck he had a chance for, he hit everything that moved and he was the most electrifying player in the sport and still is to this day.”
Ovechkin is one goal shy of tying Gordie Howe for second all-time in Goals Scored in NHL history and is 95 away from surpassing Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record 894 tallies.
“I don’t know that I knew it was doable when I was playing with him. Even when he hit 500, I don’t think I knew probably until last year or the season before it was doable because even at 500 goals, you still need eight more seasons of 50 goals a year to reach 900.
“It’s incredible, continued Laich, “so you need to go 10 seasons of 50 goals and then once you’re at 500, which is a monumental milestone in the league, you’re a Hall of Famer you hit 500 goals, you need to go another eight seasons of 50 goals after that.”
“And just the way he’s blown through the last couple of seasons because there was a time where it was like three or four seasons in a row there where it was like ‘could you get to 50 anymore’…then I think things changed with the influx of younger defensemen. Younger defensemen weren’t as physical, they stick-checked, made more errors, however they were great at moving the puck and added more offense but they weren’t just locked-down stay-at-home defensemen. And so I think scoring started to open up again more and then he started adding more to those totals…”
“The other thing I don’t think people talk about Ovi but that is remarkable is he’s missed very few games out of the 1,300 he’s played. His longevity, his health, his consistency…like he has missed very few games for how physical he is and how long he’s played, which is exceptional.”
Laich was traded by the Caps in 2016 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and also spent time with the Los Angeles Kings before retiring from professional hockey. Laich, who has not put on hockey gear since his last time on the ice with the Kings, says that seeing Ovechkin and his former teammates raise the Stanley Cup in 2018 brought a mixture of emotions.
“The way he handles himself is actually quite remarkable when I look back at it”, he said of the pressures placed on the Capitals’ captain’s shoulders as the face of the franchise, “You just signed a $124 million contract, you’re the captain of the team, you’re expected to score 50 goals minimum heading into every single season, and you should win a Cup because the guy [Sidney Crosby] down the road in Pittsburgh, he’s won one. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure for any human being to face every single year.”
“D.C., had for awhile, certainly when I got there, there was certainly a kind of ‘woe is me’ sort of attitude around town”, said Laich of Washington finally capturing the Stanley Cup, “The Redskins always got beat, the Nats [Washington Nationals] got beat, the sports town was a ‘woe is me, other teams beat us’ thing and I wanted to disrupt that, I wanted to break that. I wanted to win a championship in D.C., not just for hockey, but to break that mold of other cities are better than us, which was the thought process which was going around the city at the time. And certainly it perpetuated as we lost some playoff rounds, we lost to Pittsburgh, we lost to the Rangers.”
“And then when the guys won it”, the longtime Capital said, “I was so elated for the city of D.C., for the fans of D.C., for my friends that were still on the team, the guys I had played with. For Ovi it cements his legacy, and I think you have seen him take off since then because that pressure isn’t just mounted on him again. It was mounting for a decade plus until they won one, and I think he’s found a new level of freedom and relaxation that has allowed him to improve his performance. But I was so happy for the city of D.C., so happy for the guys, and the staff and people I had been through a lot of hockey games with. It was wonderful to watch.”
“I would have been nice to be there but even if given my choice at that time, I actually wanted to be playing in L.A. at that time, as much as I love D.C., just a big part of my life, my spouse (ex-wife actress and singer Julianne Hough) was in L.A. at the time, so given the choice I probably wouldn’t have been in D.C. for that, it wasn’t my choice I was traded, but even given the choice I probably would have been in L.A. at that time.”
Laich also dished on some behind the scenes stories of The Great Eight, including one early in his career during a trip to Long Island, New York to face the New York Islanders.
“Have you guys heard the Mike Bossy one?”, Laich responded, “Oh man. So we are in, I don’t know maybe our second year, it’s early on in our career. We’re in the Isle and we’re playing the Islanders that night and it’s morning skate. And this guy comes down to say hello, he asks our trainer ‘Can I talk to Alex Ovechkin?’, and our trainer says , ‘yeah sure I’ll get him’, and Ovi goes and shakes this guy’s hand, is pleasurable, nice smile on his face, and whatever, and little exchange for a couple minutes and the guy walks away, they shake hands and Ovi comes over to do his stick and I’m doing my stick. And I’m like ‘O do you know who that was?’, and he goess, ‘I don’t know, some Mike Bossy guy’. He had no idea who Mike Bossy was…it was just a blissful ignorance, it’s beautiful…just taped his stick and went on with his day.”
To hear Laich’s other stories about Ovechkin, what he is currently up to, and more, click HERE