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David Stern said Alex Ovechkin's contract was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard

David Stern said Alex Ovechkin's contract was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard

Typically when you think Tom Haberstroh and Ted Leonsis, you'd think they'd talk strictly about the Washington Wizards.

While they did cover everything bastketball in the District, Leonsis's attention turned to an anecdote about former NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Leonsis had just signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year extension worth $124 million.

Stern called Leonsis and gave him a piece of his mind on the deal. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. You will regret this decision for the rest of your life!" Leonsis recalls the former commissioner saying. "I said, 'thank you Mr. Commissioner, I appreciate it' and he hung up on me."

Leonsis and the Caps had the last laugh, as Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers of all time and has a Stanley Cup win under his belt.

"Now people say, 'Do you have any regrets on Alex Ovechkin's 13-year deal?' And I say 'yes, I wish it was 15 years!' Leonsis noted.

Deals like Ovechkin's are now illegal in the NHL due to the reworked collective bargaining agreement, but before that deal was signed, Ovechkin could've signed anywhere after his rookie contract was up.

"Alex Ovechkin would've been the most coveted free agent of all time, right, in the NHL," Leonsis said of why he gave Ovi a monster deal. Everyone thought after his rookie deal and his first deal when he was gonna be an unrestricted free agent, he'd go play in Montreal, a Toronto, a New York."

Keeping Ovechkin was a big part of creating the new culture of the Capitals, and Leonsis believes keeping that talent and nurturing is even more important in the NBA.

"If you get a young player and they're a part of building your culture, and the team and the culture really becomes theirs, right, that's the key thing," Leonsis said. "And so if you're gifted, and you're gonna get paid in the NBA, why go play and be the third wheel?"

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D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

D.C. youth coaching legend Neal Henderson gets his due with U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction

WASHINGTON — For 40 years Neal Henderson has given underprivileged kids the chance to play hockey at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

On Thursday, Henderson was honored for his life’s work with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Henderson was inducted along with NHL greats Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell. He heard kind words spoken about his program, the Fort Dupont Cannons, from the likes of Bettman, Alex Ovechkin and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and also received a video tribute. 

It’s been quite a week for Henderson, who drew a sustained ovation from the crowd at Tuesday’s Capitals-Boston Bruins game when acknowledged on the big video board at Capital One Arena. 

“It’s amazing. Something I never believed I could be a part of,” Henderson said. “It’s the zenith of my life other than being married and having a son. I’ve enjoyed what I have done. I didn’t do it for the reasons of being here. I did it for the love of kids and the parents who trusted me with their children.”  

Henderson said he “became completely numb” when he got the phone call learning he’d be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Cannons developmental program, based at Fort Dupont, is designed to help local underprivileged kids play an expensive sport that is out of reach for many. Fort Dupont features the oldest minority hockey league in North America. 

It’s not a route to the NHL. But Henderson has helped kids play high school and college hockey, passing on the lessons he’s learned over decades: That hard work and character matter. That education is crucial. He believes hockey helps forge those traits. The Cannons give kids a chance to travel to other cities to play games. They were an integral part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign, which seeks to broaden the sport, make it more inclusive, help better communities.

A clip showed during Ovechkin’s tribute video after being named the Wayne Gretzky International Award recipient at Thursday’s induction dinner, showed the Stanley Cup at Fort Dupont with the Cannons. That was Ovechkin’s idea, according to Leonsis.

“I asked Alex ‘Where do you want to go?’ He said ‘I want to see kids at Georgetown Cancer Center.” And we went there. And then he wanted to pay homage to Coach Neal,” Leonsis said. “And so we went to Fort Dupont. It’s great that he’s here.”

Henderson said he hoped his induction would help encourage more people of color to embrace hockey. He started the program in the late 1970s thinking he’d simply get his son through the program, which works with kids ages 8 to 18. But he just kept going – in part because kids kept coming to the Cannons and in part because he just couldn’t refuse them. Decades later he’s still here working with them. 

“A lot of people don’t feel that they have the opportunity when it’s right at their back door,” Henderson said. “If they take just one more step they’ll find that there are people out there that’s willing to help them. All you have to do is be there willing to make sure they get the chance.”

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Ovechkin honored with Wayne Gretzky International Award by U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Ovechkin honored with Wayne Gretzky International Award by U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin still has a ways to go to catch Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal-scoring record. 

For now, he did the next best thing. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame presented Ovechkin with its Wayne Gretzky International Award at its annual induction ceremony on Thursday night at the Marriott Marquis in Washington. 

The award goes to an international individual who has made major contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States. It is hard to argue with the choice of Ovechkin, whose singular popularity fueled the explosive growth of youth hockey in the D.C. area since he arrived in the NHL in 2005 at age 20. 

Ovechkin was not able to attend the ceremony on Thursday. The Capitals left a day early for their game in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. It is their annual dads and mentors road trip. But Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was at the dinner to accept the award on Ovechkin’s behalf.

“From Day 1 Alex fell in love with our fans and this community and has said this is his second home,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he really helped to establish this community as a hockey community. It’s been called The Ovechkin Effect – all the young people that are growing up and have lived through this era and they are hockey fans for life right now.”

 ESPN’s Steve Levy hosted the awards dinner. Former NHL stars Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, U.S women’s Olympian Krissy Wendell and Neal Henderson, co-founder of Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Program, which for 40 years has provided access to hockey for underprivileged kids throughout the area. 

Dr. Jack Blatherwick, a longtime college and pro hockey trainer who helped develop hundreds of hockey players during his career and worked closely with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, was given the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. 

Ovechkin joined such hockey luminaries as Gretzky, who won the inaugural award in 1999, legendary coach Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull and, posthumously in 2008, Anatoly Tarasov, who is considered the father of Russian hockey for starting the Soviet Union’s ice hockey program from scratch after World War II and building it into an international powerhouse. 

Ovechkin couldn’t be at the dinner in person, but he did thank the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame for the award by video. 

“It’s a huge honor for me to get this award,” Ovechkin said. “Wayne Gretzky is probably the best player in NHL history and hockey history. This award goes not for me. It goes to the whole Washington Capitals organization and how they support hockey and how they grow hockey in this area is tremendous.”

Ovechkin quickly became the face of the Capitals with his brash, exciting style of play and his relentless goal scoring. He’s up to 679 now – still a long way from Gretzky’s 894, but closing in on 11th all-time at age 34. He has a good chance at becoming just the eighth NHL player to reach 700 goals by the end of the current season. 

Ovechkin adds to his on-ice work by representing the Capitals all across the D.C. community whether working with special-needs kids or visiting sick children at local hospitals. The cherry on top, according to Leonsis, was the Capitals finally winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Ovechkin would eventually take the Cup to Georgetown Cancer Center and to visit Neal Henderson’s kids at Fort Dupont.

“We’ve just established the Capitals through Alex’s leadership and really historical greatness,” Leonsis said. “As a team and a hockey community, it’s really built to last…And since Alex stepped onto the ice from that very first game [in 2005] and drilled that [Columbus Blue Jackets] player into the glass until [Tuesday] night, it’s just been this constant build. We hope he plays for a long, long time and continues to be here. But his place in history is cemented.” 

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