Scoring goals is an unselfish, team-building contribution.

As a former hook-and-hold defenseman who didn’t score goals, I’m about to let you in on Alex Ovechkin’s secret. Don’t believe pundits who point to special physical gifts that account for Ovi’s dominance as the most prolific scorer of our generation. The pundits are knowledgeable hockey folks, but they’re wrong.

Ovi scores because he lives to score. It’s what makes his heart beat. Actually, it’s a simple formula: He has more PASSION to score than the rest of the hockey world. Consider how many highlight videos we’ve seen of impossible goals he scored after being knocked off his feet (study the photos, because they say it all). Then ask yourself why you can’t score goals like that. Very few can score Connor McDavid goals, but everyone could score Ovi-goals if we practiced scoring with his crazy passion.

He NEVER gives up on a scoring chance if he has to shoot from his knees or lying face down on the ice or on his back, or if he has to score one-handed or on a spin-o-rama after the D has him totally wrapped up. He scores even if he has to shoot while flying through the air. I’ve seen it up close in every practice, and it drives his goaltenders crazy.

One-on-one (2-on-2  or  3-on-3) drills are Ovi’s scoring practice – not shooting drills without opposition. He tries to score when others give up on a drill – competitive drills that, for most of us, end when the forward fumbles the puck, or the D pokechecks or makes a good body check. At that moment, most normal humans are done. We just skate to the end of the line and wait for another opportunity to be handed to us.

That’s when Ovechkin – for his entire life – has practiced scoring, and that’s why he gets shots off in games when others can’t. For a two-season stretch (a decade ago) Ovechkin got off 1,647 shots, scoring 121 goals and 101 assists!  When he was a teen-ager, his coaches insisted that on every 1-on-1, he had to finish with a shot, then a rebound, regardless of how effective the D was against him.

Our 1-on-1’s tend to be “all-or-nothing” – either a highlight goal (beat the D and deke the goalie) or a successful defense. In other words, we teach quitting when there are still opportunities to pursue. Ovi’s coaches prepared him to score in the most competitive situations – like the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Are the pundits right that he has a physical advantage, being so big and strong? Of course, but in the 13 years of Ovi’s NHL career, there have been dozens who are bigger and stronger. Does he shoot harder and more accurately than others in shooting drills without defenders? Short answer: No.

So how do coaches build another Ovechkin? How do we develop a player who dominates the state high school tournament like Dave Spehar did (three tournament hat tricks for Duluth East) or Grant Besse did (scoring all five Benilde goals in the championship game)?

It starts with uncomfortable – maybe unpopular – practice drills that teach relentless second and third efforts when the easy answer is to quit. Does anyone think it’s easy to become an Ovechkin?

It also requires coaches to CULTIVATE scoring passion, not SUPPRESS it with counterproductive references to “selfish play.” Scoring goals is an unselfish, team-building contribution. Ask the Capitals.