The 14 biggest takeaways from ESPN’s ‘GR8TNESS’ documentary on Alex Ovechkin (2023)

ABC aired an hour-long special on Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin before Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game. The feature, entitled GR8TNESS, is part-documentary and part-exclusive interview that includes new information and context behind one of the game’s greatest players.

Through a one-on-one, sit-down interview with ESPN’s Kevin Weekes, Ovechkin explains how he felt during some of the biggest moments of his career. The special also helps explain how a kid from Russia is now challenging a goals record that most never thought would ever be challenged.

Below we point out our 14 biggest takeaways from the film. It touches on all parts of Ovechkin’s career both on and off the ice.

Note: The entire special is now available to stream on ESPN+ and is a great watch for every Capitals or hockey fan.

1. Gretzky believes his reign as goals king is almost over

The GR8TNESS documentary kicks off with quotes from names like Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, TJ Oshie.

“If you would asked me (if someone could break the record) 15 years ago, I would have thought no chance,” Crosby says, “but he’s going to make a run at it.”

“Every year, it doesn’t matter: it’s 50 goals, 50 goals,” Matthews observes. “He finds a way.”

“I think Ovi will be remembered as the greatest goal-scorer of all time,” Oshie adds.

It all builds to Wayne Gretzky, the current goals king. The Great One shares his opinion on if he thinks Ovechkin will break his all-time goals record.

“I think we’re past the point of if,” Gretzky says. “We all know it’s a matter of time.”

That’s an attitude and opinion that Gretzky has shared publicly recently.

During the Capitals’ second-to-last game before the All-Star Break, Gretzky jumped into the Caps’ television booth and had an impromptu interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin during the Capitals-Leafs game.

“He deserves all the credit and all the accolades he’s getting,” Gretzky said. “I couldn’t be more happy to be around a guy that has a chance to break my record. It’s not going to change my life. It’s going to be a positive for the NHL and that’s all that matters.”

2. Ovi wasn’t sure he’d be picked first overall in the Draft by the Capitals

Ovechkin is brash and confident, but he wasn’t on his big Draft Day in 2004. Despite drawing comparisons as the best prospect since Mario Lemieux, Ovi wasn’t sure he’d actually be the first overall pick despite all the hype and attention.

“I was nervous obviously,” Ovechkin says, admitting he doubted himself. “There were lots of great players up there. I was like, ‘Maybe, [the Capitals] are going to take me.'”

Ovechkin’s agent at the time, Don Meehan, told Ovi he was probably going to be selected first or second overall. But Ovechkin, perhaps superstitious, was having none of it.

“I have to like listen,” Ovi recalls telling him. “Wait and hear my name.”

Of course, the Capitals did pick the Russian superstar first overall. Current GM Brian MacLellan says that looking back, he was “an automatic pick” and the “complete package.”

“To be honest with you, I never thought I’d be able to score 800 goals in the NHL,” Ovechkin says. “I’d be crazy if I came to the Draft and tell (then Capitals general manager) George McPhee, ‘Hey, you know what? If you draft me I’m going to score 800.’ It’s impossible.”

In a recent interview, McPhee said that the Capitals were pretty dead set on drafting Ovechkin as soon as they learned they won the Draft Lottery. While they considered Evgeni Malkin, who ended up being a star in his own right, Ovechkin’s intangibles put him over the top every time the team talked through the selection with scouts.

George McPhee: The top two guys in that draft were elite players. On our list, we had Ovechkin and Malkin there. I called Ross Mahoney right after the call from Collie to tell him that we won the lottery.

And I said, ‘What’s your initial impression?’

He said, ‘It’s gotta be Ovechkin.’

And so we talked about it, we discussed it more, and then obviously in a lot of detail in the next coming three or four weeks because Malkin is a hell of a player. We just thought the combination of goals and physical play and enthusiasm that Ovechkin brings, he had to be the guy.

3. Ovechkin felt like he in jail when he first arrived in the US

Ovechkin’s first season in the NHL should have been in 2004-05, but the campaign was canceled due to a league lockout. So Ovechkin stayed at home in Russia and won a championship with Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Super League. As both a champion and a first overall pick in the NHL, Ovechkin’s notoriety world wide had reached a new high.

Once a new CBA was negotiated and signed, Ovechkin moved to DC in the fall of 2005. The transition was initially harsh.

“It was kind of weird because I stay in hotel,” Ovechkin says. “It was kind of weird room. It was not first floor or second floor, it was (the basement). Like I was kind of in jail.

“No English, don’t understand English language,” he added. “No TV. And I only have small window. So I’m sitting there (saying to myself), ‘What am I doing here?'”

The tough living situation ultimately didn’t have an impact on Ovechkin’s success. He scored twice in his debut game with the Capitals on October October 5, 2005.

It might explain why Ovechkin ended up moving in with his boss for a time.

“Alex Ovechkin actually lived with my family his rookie season, which was really cool.” Graham McPhee, GM George McPhee’s son, said after being drated by the Edmonton Oilers in 2016. “He’s a really great guy and I learned a lot of the little things the pros do.”

The move gave Ovi more support and helped him become more assimilated to the United States. Though his competitiveness would come out at times.

“We would play hockey in the basement and he was always the goalie,” Graham McPhee said. “He would let me shoot 10 pucks and told me if I scored on five of the 10, he would get me the new NHL video game.

“I think he stopped them all, and I was really upset. I cried and went up to my room. The next day, he came home with the video game for me.”

Ovechkin would go on to win the Calder Trophy that season as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.

4. Ovi’s fantastic shot might have come from an annoying chore as a kid

Ovechkin’s shot is one of the hardest and most accurate in NHL history. As Ovechkin tells it in the doc, that special skill was originally crafted at his grandfather’s country house in Moscow, Russia.

“I remember we had wood nets,” Ovechkin said. “We have maybe 10 pucks. We put plastic bottles on top of the posts and crossbars. This is my targets. I have to hit each to be free to go out and play. Back then, I didn’t want to do it. I just want to play with the kids on the streets, but I’m pretty sure that help me when I was growing up (as a hockey player).”

Another part of Ovechkin’s childhood that shaped him in the NHL was when he lost his older brother Sergei in a car accident.

Ovechkin was 10 at the time and competing at a hockey tournament when it happened. Two days later, Sergei died due to a blood clot.

“It was a tough moment, it was a tough moment for my parents, but it is what it is,” Ovechkin said, after visiting Sergei’s grave in Moscow, during his Cup day. “You can’t take time back. You can’t change time so we just move forward. But I think it was very important for me personally because he’s the guy who, he’s my brother obviously. You can’t change it, but he motivated me to play hard and I gave what I can on the ice.”

Ovechkin named his first son after his late brother and kisses his glove and points to the sky after every goal in honor of him.

5. ‘The Goal’ may have been scored by a slightly hungover Ovi

Alex Ovechkin scored ‘The Goal’ on January 16, 2006, against the Phoenix Coyotes. But two days prior, the Capitals held what sounds like a wild event.

“Okay, this is my rookie dinner,” Ovechkin says smiling. “I have to do what I have to do.”

Ovi admitted he was still was affected nearly 36 hours later.

“I remember in the morning skate, geez, I don’t feel good,” Ovechkin says. “I don’t feel, you know, 100 percent. Still a little off. And then ‘The Goal’ happened. Maybe it happen because of (that) night?”

Wayne Gretzky was the Coyotes’ bench boss for that game and a very young Auston Matthews was also in the crowd.

“First of all, I hated it because I was coaching against him,” Gretzky says. “But from a pure talent and awe sort of point of view, it has to be one of the greatest goals that was ever scored in the NHL.”

“[I] just try to hit the puck,” Ovechkin says of his thought process. “I remember I thought I hit the puck. Maybe I hit it or not? I looked up right away at the jumbotron. I say, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty good goal.'”

6. Ovi’s mirrored visor was kiboshed by Martin Brodeur

When Ovechkin first broke into the league, his goal-scoring prowess and physical play rocketed him into the spotlight. But, his unique style drew even more attention to him. Part of that style was his mirrored visor which made him look like RoboCop.

Ovi has said in the past that his favorite visor was that mirrored one he rocked as a rookie.

Unfortunately, the league voted to outlaw them due to competitive advantage concerns. Ovi puts the blame there on Hall of Fame goaltender and apparently very salty man, Martin Brodeur.

“(Martin) Brodeur start crying to the league, ‘I can’t see his eyes’,” Ovechkin says. “What are you talking about? So the league says I can’t wear visor. It’s you [goalies] who are always crying.”

Weekes then asks if he’d wear the visor again if the NHL allowed it.

“Yeah,” Ovechkin replies. “I would love to… Bring it back, Gary.”

7. Ovi’s special relationship with his hockey sticks

There’s a saying that a craftsman is only as good as his tools allow him to be. That isn’t necessarily true of a generational talent like Ovechkin but he is incredibly meticulous about the sticks he uses to score all of the goals he does.

Ovi says his relationship with his sticks “is most important thing.”

Ovi’s only changed his curve twice in his 18-year NHL career. His sticks have a 100 flex. In particular, he really loves CCM’s green Ribcor twig.

“Every time before the game I cut two or three sticks,” Ovechkin said. “Feel them. Look at the curve. Look at the shaft. Then I pick one. Tape two. I put an extra stick if it’s broken.”

Ovechkin says he always cuts his sticks personally and has never trusted anyone else to do so.

8. The left circle one-timer came very early

While he has scored goals from almost every area of the ice you can imagine, an impressive number of Ovechkin’s goals have come from his office in the left faceoff circle. The vast majority of those are power play tallies as Ovi has lined up on that side of the ice with a man advantage for his entire career.

It’s a position on the ice that has become so synonymous with him that local DC area rinks have had ‘Ovi’s Office’ logos installed in their left faceoff circles in honor of his achievements.

Ovi realized he had something there with his one-timer during his rookie season with the Capitals.

“I think it when I came to NHL,” Ovechkin says. “We start doing power play. They put me in that spot. It came natural.”

Nearly two decades later, Ovechkin became the NHL’s Power-Play Goals King via a lot goals from that spot, breaking Dave Andreychuk’s record on December 31, 2021. As of publishing, Ovechkin now has 295 PPGs and counting.

“It’s hard to understand how he makes each goal so easy,” Evgeny Kuznetsov says.

Despite teams game-planning for Ovi’s one-timer, goalies still can’t stop it.

Ovechkin has scored 20 ppgs or more in a season four different times in his career.

9. Ovechkin’s basement holds over 200 of his own historic hockey sticks

Ovechkin is very aware of the sort of historic moments he is creating with every goal and point he tallies. That’s why since the start of the 2021-22 season, he has begun collecting his own equipment every time he has found the scoresheet. He currently has 200 of his own historic hockey sticks in his basement, including the twig that he did the “Hot Stick” celebration with.

“They’re just historical moments,” Ovechkin says.

The plan is for eventually it to all end up in some sort of museum. With the hoarding of his own equipment and the game-used sticks he collects from other players in the league and legends of the game, he has drawn the ire of his wife Nastya. She has seen their house turn into a memorabilia showcase.

“Basically my whole basement is some jerseys,” Ovechkin said in December. “Nastya don’t like it because every time I have gloves or helmets, she’s like ‘Jesus, when are you going to get rid of this.’ I say, ‘Well, we’ll see, we’ll see when it’s going to happen.’”

Ovechkin’s basement also includes a stick from Wayne Gretzky after he met two conditions from The Great One. Ovi won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and hit 700 goals.

10. Ovi’s diet isn’t a diet

Alex Ovechkin’s no Tom Brady. Nor is he a bastion of good nutrition. He’s a machine known to be fueled by pregame chicken parm from Mamma Lucia and Coca-Cola-filled water bottles on the bench. “The guy’s diet is borderline inspiring,” Brooks Orpik once said.

Nastya Ovechkina is asked about her husband’s eating habits.

“Diet?” Nastya says. “I can’t say he has any diet. He eats pasta. He really loves meatballs.”

Ovi seems to benefit somehow from the heavy carbs.

“In Washington, I have only one meal: spaghetti and (sauces?). On the road, I eat salad, soup. I eat spaghetti and chicken parm.”

Ovi got his Coca-Cola habit from his first trainer from his first offseason. He told Ovi to drink Coke for more energy during games. Ovi thinks it helps him in some way and still continues the tradition even now.

11. Winning the Stanley Cup “was crazy”

It took Ovechkin 13 seasons and a whole ton of playoff heartbreak before he and the Washington Capitals were able to secure their first-ever Stanley Cup victory in the 2018 playoffs. It’s a moment that will live on forever in hockey history and was truly the last piece, along with the accompanying Conn Smythe Trophy, to top off an otherworldly career.

Ovi won Lord Stanley and then didn’t let the trophy he strived to win for so long get out of his sight. He even slept with it.

“It was the best atmosphere ever,” Ovechkin says. “I didn’t want to go nowhere. I just want to celebrate in the room. It was crazy. I was crazy. It was probably the best feeling I have with the team. You know what I mean?”

12. TJ Oshie invented the Cup Stand

While the Cup victory was a historic moment in hockey history itself, so was the Capitals’ ensuing celebration. One major part of that celebration that got a lot of headlines and may have dinged Lord Stanley up a good bit was the team’s incessant desire to do their version of a keg stand out of it.

A lot of those keg stands occurred right before the now famous shirtless fountain baths a handful of players, including Ovechkin, took in Georgetown.

Ovi says the master of partying on the Caps roster, TJ Oshie was who came up with the fun.

“He started that crazy lifting,” Ovechkin says. “He put me on top. I take one sip of the beer. It feels like you’re drunk right away. It feels like you drink six shots of vodka.”

13. Ovi called his shot on goal no. 800

On December 13, 2022, Ovechkin officially became just the third player in NHL history to score 800 career goals.

“Against Chicago, before the game, I said I was going to get three tonight,” Ovechkin says he told teammates smiling big. “Yeah.”

Then, he went out and did it like the boss he is.

Ovechkin scored no. 798 on his first shift. No. 799 came under eight minutes later on his “second or third shift.” Then Ovi scored no. 800 in the third period. It ended up being the 29th hat trick of his career.

Blackhawks fans chanted Ovi’s name and his teammates beer-showered him afterward in the locker room.

“He had that look on his eye,” Oshie says, recalling back to Ovechkin on that night.

14. Ovi was “almost crying” after scoring goal no. 802

Ovechkin entered the 2022-23 season knowing that Gordie Howe’s career mark of 801 goals was fully within his reach. And, on December 23, he made that dream into a reality as he sent a no-look bid into an empty net against the Winnipeg Jets to pass Howe.

Ovi’s family — including his two young children Sergei and Ilya — were in attendance. His mom and dad Tatyana and Mikhail were watching from home in Moscow.

It’s a goal that to this day makes The Great Eight emotional even to think about. Ovi told Weekes that he was “almost crying” when he scored it. He also admitted to almost doing so in the locker room while making a speech to his temmates.

While the milestone moment happened that night, no. 802 wasn’t supposed to come an empty net. But, fellow countryman, Evgeny Kuznetsov, gave Ovi no choice. After taking an unselfish pass from Ovi, Kuzy knew he’d be booed by “20,000 people” if he scored instead. So he passed it back to his captain and then history was made.

Overall, the documentary gives fantastic insight into a man that has provided Caps fans with a lifetime of incredible moments. It’s a must watch and we barely scratched the surface with these 14 cherry-picked stories.

What was your favorite moment from the special?

Watch it now on ESPN+.

Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB


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