ARLINGTON, Va. – The happiest professional athlete outside of soccer about Lionel Messiwinning the World Cup might be hockey star Alex Ovechkin.
A longtime fan of Messi, Ovechkin is reveling in Messi getting the job done with Argentina, including scoring twice and converting his kick in penalties in the instant-classic final against France on Sunday.
“I was very excited,” Ovechkin said Monday. "Of course, everybody knows he’s my favorite player and to see finally he get his dream and win the World Cup, it’s pretty big for him and I’m very happy for him.”
Ovechkin got a Messi Barcelona jersey and a trip to Spain to watch him play there and go behind the scenes as a gift from teammates to celebrate his 1,000th NHL game three years ago. He has met him and taken pictures with him.
There are plenty of parallels between Ovechkin finally hoisting the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in his 13th NHL season and Messi winning the World Cup in likely his last opportunity at age 35. Much like Ovechkin drove the bus on the Capitals' first title run in franchise history and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Messi was dominant throughout the tournament, becoming the first player to score in group play and each of the knockout rounds.
“Yeah, but I don’t know how he’s going to celebrate,” Ovechkin said. "That’s a different part of the story.”
Ovechkin and the Capitals famously went swimming in fountains in Washington and partied with the Cup like few teams have done in recent history. Messi would have to put on quite the show in Buenos Aires to match that feat.
While watching Messi fulfill his dream, Ovechkin is on the verge of making more history in his sport. Last week he became just the third player to reach the 800-goal mark and he is one short of tying and two from passing Gordie Howe for second on the NHL career list.
Ovechkin met Howe, who died in 2016, at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal and has a picture of them in his home autographed by “Mr. Hockey.”
“It’s probably my top thing in my collection,” Ovechkin said. "Obviously, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky’s stick, Mario Lemieux’s stick, it’s probably the top one.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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