First impressions can be everything and Alex Ovechkin left one hell of an impression on Wayne Gretzky. Though Gretzky had seen Ovechkin play, most notably as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, he formally met Ovechkin at a dinner in California. By the end of the night, Gretzky knew all he needed to.
"I knew then and there leaving the restaurant that one day, he was going to lift the Stanley Cup," Gretzky said in a special edition of Hockey at Home on NBCSN in a joint interview with Ovechkin.
With the Capitals in California for a game, the opportunity arose for Ovechkin and Gretzky to meet, an opportunity Ovechkin jumped at.
"It was crazy," Ovechkin said. "Of course you want to meet the Great One and talk to him, shake his hand, but when [Capitals vice president of communications Sergey Kocharov] told me we have opportunity to go have dinner with Wayne and his family, it was a special moment. Yeah, for sure, we're going to do it."
If you were going to have dinner with Gretzky, what would you talk about? What would you ask him?
There was seemingly one thing Ovechkin wanted to talk about and Gretzky found the topic striking.
"The thing that I found so fascinating about Alex wasn't so much about individualism, scoring goals, how to become a better player," Gretzky said, "The whole night was questions about what can I do, what do I need to do as captain to get our team over the hump? What can I do to contribute to winning a Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals and the city of Washington? And I remember leaving there thinking wow, this is so unique."
Gretzky may have the most goals, the most assists and the most points of all-time, he may have won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP nine times, but he is also a four-time Cup winner. Sitting down to dinner with the greatest player to lace up the skates and Ovechkin did not want to talk about his achievements or his accolades, he didn't want any secrets on how to score more goals or how to be an elite player, all he wanted to talk about was how to win.
"That question was because we have bad playoffs time," Ovechkin said. "We maybe [advanced] past the first round, but never get through the second round. I ask him advice how I have to react, what I have to tell the team. I think that advice what he give me helped."
"Back then, I win only individual awards, but I never win Stanley Cup," Ovechkin added. "My dream was win Stanley Cup and I asked him what I can do better and what I have to do better to bring a Stanley Cup home."
Clearly the wisdom Gretzky was able to impart on him worked as Ovechkin hoisted the Cup in 2018.
That clear drive to win and to lift the franchise to its first championship has stuck with Gretzky.
"We could've talked about anything," he said. "Goals, assists, games, memories and really Alex, the only thing he had on his mind was I have to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Washington. For me, that was one of the great parts of the whole evening and I knew then and there leaving the restaurant that one day, he was going to lift the Stanley Cup."
And he was right.
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