Alex Ovechkin is about to take the next step in hockey history as he becomes just the third NHL player to reach 800 goals.
Ovechkin is two goals away from passing Gordie Howe for second on the career list. “Mr. Hockey” was the only player between Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 for a long time that seemed unattainable. The longtime Washington Capitals captain is still in the running to challenge “The Great One.”
Mark Howe told Ovechkin exactly when they sat down last week.
“I said, ‘I know you’re going to pass Gordy, congratulations, but you’ve got to aim for 99,'” Howe recalled Wednesday, referring to Gretzky’s longtime sweater number. “Because once you start getting close and once you see it within reach, it becomes a huge motivator.”
But with Nos. 801 and 802 first, Ovechkin could score as early as Thursday night at home against the Dallas Stars. The Capitals also host the Toronto Maple Leafs in “Canadian Hockey Night” on Saturday and the Detroit Red Wings, Gordy’s longtime club, on Monday night.
“Let’s take it step by step,” Ovechkin said Tuesday night in Chicago, where he hit the 800-goal plateau with a hat-trick and earned a standing ovation. “It’s a big number. It’s the best company you can imagine since you started playing hockey, with Gordy (and Wayne) — 800, and I’m the third to score that many goals people.”
Gordy’s youngest son, Mark Howe, a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and longtime scout, fondly remembers Gretzky asking his father to join him as he approached the old record in March 1994, and knowing his parents Would fully support Ovechkin if they were alive. In another message to Ovechkin, Howe emphasized speaking with him in person rather than simply recording a congratulatory video message.
“I said, ‘If Gordy and (his wife) Colleen were here, they would support you 100 percent,’ without a doubt,” Howe said. “I said, ‘Howe family, we’re rooting for you. We’re rooting for you.'”
Gretzky publicly backed Ovechkin to break his record, which would require 95-plus goals for the 37-year-old’s generation’s top scorer, and at a clip never seen before by a player of this age. Ovechkin has three years left on his 2021 contract, with an eye on Gretzky’s imprint. At his pace this season, he’ll be over 50 goals, about 60 shy of the record.
Another 50-ball season would be Ovechkin’s 10th, surpassing Gretzky in that division. Mark Howe isn’t betting on Ovechkin reaching 895.
“It’s his health and his passion for the game,” Howe said. “As long as he has the passion and he’s out there fighting, competing, he’s going to score goals. Whether it takes two years, three years, four years – whatever it takes – but as long as he still has the love and passion for the game, yeah , then this record will be broken.”
In addition to the NHL, Howe also scored 174 regular season goals in the World Ice Hockey Association, and Gretzky broke into and scored 46 goals in the professional league in more than two years. Ovechkin also scored 55 goals in the Russian Premier League/Continental Hockey League.
Howe’s finish, which has stood for 14 years since retiring at the age of 52 in 1980, is another stepping stone for Ovechkin, who has risen to third place ahead of Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr. Ovechkin already holds the record for most goals scored on the road and in strong games, with the same franchise.
After celebrating Ovechkin’s milestone in the locker room, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette commented: “Every night there’s something going on.” into the network.
“That’s what great shooters do,” Laviolette said. “They know where to go. I think they know where to go. I think they know where the puck is going. I think they have a knack for getting the puck off the stick. I think they’re executing the actual shots. You don’t get there by luck. There, that’s for sure.”
Mark Howe knew this and believed his father would have admired Ovechkin as deeply as his peers had in Gordy’s heyday more than half a century earlier. A little differently, Gretzky idolized Howe before Ovechkin was born, but Mark was impressed by what the star Russian winger had to say in a joint interview.
“Alex, he said, ‘Well, yeah, his name is ‘Mr. Hockey,’ and he must mean something,” Howe said. “Dad mostly earned his stripes in the ’50s and ’60s, but I think his name is still important in hockey.”
So would Ovechkin after he passed Howe and threw his best pitch to Gretzky.