Nearly 6000 miles away in Moscow, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin grew up a San Jose Sharks fan in the early 1990s, all because a childhood teammate's attire caught his eye.
“Actually, it’s fun story,” Ovechkin told The Washington Post in 2016. “One of my teammates back then wear the hat with a shark, and we were like, ‘What is it?’ Because we don’t know the team. He said it’s the team over in San Jose, so I have a hat, I have a hoodie and like a jacket. Ulf Dahlen, I remember, my dad gave me a jersey of Ulf Dahlen. It was on my wall. That was kind of fun.”
The jersey's still sits on the wall in his family's country home, according to The Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan. Growing up in Russia, Ovechkin's experience watching the NHL was largely limited to store-bought highlight tapes. He idolized players like Sergei Fedorov and Mario Lemieux, but he told Graham Bensinger in a 2015 interview that he had a special affinity for a former Sharks captain.
"Of course, my favorite player was Owen Nolan, who played in San Jose," Ovechkin said. "He was physical, he can score goals, and he was a great leader."
That sure sounds the way Ovechkin, arguably the best power forward of the modern era and one of the best goal-scorers of all time, plays. The 32-year-old is in the midst of a renaissance season, hitting the 40-goal mark for the ninth time in his career, tied for the fourth-most all-time.
Ovechkin is nearing another major milestone, sitting just two goals shy of becoming the 20th player in league history to score 600 goals. With four more, he can pass Jari Kurri for 19th all-time.
He'll have his latest shot at history in his 10th trip to San Jose Saturday afternoon, when his Capitals wrap up a three-game, California road trip against his favorite NHL team from childhood.
Expecting him to pass Kurri in the matinee would be a stretch, but the former is certainly possible against the NHL team he grew up rooting for. He's been fairly prolific against the Sharks (eight goals in 17 games), and scored in his last game against San Jose on Dec. 4.
But the Sharks have largely limited Ovechkin, as well as the Capitals, in his previous nine appearances at SAP Center. He's only scored two goals there, none in his last five trips, while San Jose's not lost to Washington at home in regulation since 1993.
The bad news for the Sharks, and the good news for Ovechkin's pursuit of history, is that he may be due. He's only scored on about six percent of his 33 shots at SAP Center, compared to a career average of 12.4 percent on 4825 shots. Ovechkin's also recorded multiple shots on goal in each of those games, and it's difficult to imagine him remaining out of the goal column at SAP Center.
Whether he scores twice against the Sharks or not on Saturday, Ovechkin's surely going to reach the 600-goal mark this season. The milestone's special enough on its own, but there would be something fitting about Ovechkin reaching it against his boyhood NHL team, and in the building where his favorite player dazzled fans for parts of seven seasons.
If he does score 599 and 600 in San Jose, Ovechkin should send the pucks to that childhood teammate.