March 30th, 1989
When training camp opened, no one knew where he came from. Suddenly, here was this blur of speed, strength, passion and skill that was unlike anything ever seen before on a hockey rink.
He wore a tinted half-visor on his helmet that looked as if it had been smuggled from the future by Marty McFly. The Washington scouts couldn't remember drafting him and management wasn't even sure he belonged prior to the first skate. It was as if he had appeared out of nowhere.
And then came the goals. At a furious rate. The firey Russian scored from in close on rebounds and on mind-boggling wrap-arounds. He scored on wristers that snapped off his stick and rang off the crossbar. He scored on magnificent solo efforts, and through brute force and with sensational finesse. And that was just in the scrimmages.
When the season began he immediately became a threat to score each and every time he touched the ice. And when he scored, the kid would throw his body into the boards after scoring, recklessly slamming the glass with his stick, and erupted into an ear-to-ear grin the moment the puck hit mesh.
The Great One says, "the combination of emotion, talent and strength is almost unfair to goalies". Mario Lemieux announced, "this kid might be the best goal scorer in the history of the game". Those words were spoken at the All-Star game in January, when the kid had played a grand total of 42 NHL games.
Tonight, just as its been all season long, every eye in the sporting world will be trained on Alexander Ovechkin, the spectacular rookie who is on the verge of doing the unthinkable - hitting triple digits in goals scored in a single season.
Gretzky scored 92 goals back in 1982 and another 87 goals in 1984, but Wayne has always been thought of as a playmaker and he scored enough empty-netters to make those totals somewhat inflated. Ovechkin is a sniper, pure and simple. He is a goalie's worst nightmare. His cannon of a shot is the most lethal weapon in the Cold War.
Scoring 100 goals is like hitting 70 homeruns or throwing 60 touchdown passes. Impossible. It's a fantasy. And yet here we are, on the edge of history.
Ovechkin began with a hat-trick against Jon Casey on opening night, followed with a pair against Alain Chevrier and hasn't gone more than three games in a row without lighting the lamp. He embarrassed Grant Fuhr in December when he scored six times including three on a single shift in the second period. He has scored five goals on two other occasions and four a handful of times. He has victimized 37 different goalies and single-handedly pushed Wendell Young's GAA to nearly 5.00. He made Darren Puppa live up to his name.
Ovechkin is sitting on 99 goals in 79 games including a stunning 14 in his last six. He's hotter than Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.
And tonight he will become the first NHL player to score 100 goals in a single regular season. Count on it.