April 6, 2004. The day that changed the fortunes of our Capitals franchise and eventually brought much joy to our fans and city.
With a slightly better than 14% chance of winning the NHL draft lottery, we found a little luck when the league’s lottery machine looked favorably on the Caps. Ever since that Tuesday in April we have been lucky to call Alex Ovechkin a Washington Capital and member of our community.
Everyone expected we would use the No. 1 overall pick to select Alex, a Russian teenager who had just scored 13 goals the year before. While not eye-popping numbers, he was a young man playing with men for Moscow Dynamo.
Less than three months after the lottery, a throng of Capitals fans made the drive to RBC Center in Raleigh for the draft. Most of them congregated in one section next to the stage, and after we made the official announcement, the fans were so loud and welcoming that Alex waved to them on his way to the stage.
I joined the hockey operations contingent for the traditional draft pick photo op, and Alex had one arm around me and the other around our head of amateur scouting, Ross Mahoney, who is now our assistant general manager. I could feel Alex’s heart pounding through the old Capitals “dome” jersey – we were a few years away from rocking the red. He had a high motor then, and I don’t think it ever shuts down.
Immediately after the draft we hosted a reception for our fans and the 2004 draft class. The first one there – Alex Ovechkin. He greeted people as they walked in, took pictures throughout the event and was one of the last to leave. Alex was committed and all-in from day 1.
October 5, 2005. MCI Center was the site of Alex’s first game, and on his first shift he delivered a check so hard that the glass popped loose and the support beam fell onto the ice. In a 3-2 win against Columbus, Alex had a pair of goals in a five-minute span during the second period. He went on to score 52 goals, including “The Goal,” and 106 points that season on his way to rookie-of-the-year honors.
Alex continues to provide us with tremendous memories, on and off the ice. YouTube is filled with his highlight goals and big hits, but I also remember the teenager who came to D.C. with a personality, perhaps one that fans weren’t anticipating given the common perception of stoic Russian athletes. As quick as he made his presence felt on the ice, it didn’t take Alex long to start to leave an off-ice impression that we embraced. My fondest memories include his gregarious personality, missing-tooth smile, TV commercials (including the vending machine one where he makes me look a little silly), getting the keys to the city (“Everybody have fun and no speed limit”), a hole in one during his first round of golf at our charity tournament, “props” during the All-Star skills competition, celebrating a birthday by helping to paint a local school, his sushi date with 10-year-old Ann and his car donation to American Special Hockey Association.
We have watched him establish team and NHL records and grow from a teenager to a husband. We remember that first goal, we celebrated No. 500 and today we recognize him for his 1,000th point. I feel fortunate that we can share in those many memories and milestones.
Congratulations Alex and thank you – we had no idea how fortunate we were in April 2004.
1,001 career NHL points – hahaha sick unbelievable!!!!!!!! :))))))))