From the second the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals entered the Stanley Cup Finals, it was destined to be a memorable series.
The Western Conference presented its best team in the Vegas Golden Knights. A year ago, the Golden Knights barely existed. As an expansion team in the 2017-2018 season, they were heavily criticized by hockey fans claiming that the team would fail as an organization. “Las Vegas is not a hockey town,” said pessimistic hockey fans. However, a solid expansion draft landed players like goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Jason Garrison and offensemen William Karlsson. These players, bolstered by the hockey expertise of head coach Gerard Gallant allowed for the Golden Knights to make a deep-run into the postseason.
On the other hand, the Washington Capitals represented the Eastern Conference in their second Stanley Cup Finals. Their first appearance came in 1997-98 in which they fell short of my Detroit Red Wings. The Caps franchise player Alexander Ovechkin has been with the organization since he first entered the NHL in 2005. Since then, he has been one of the most dominant and admired players in the league.
Growing up, Ovi was one of my hockey role models. My fascination with him spawned when I saw a video of Ovechkin scoring a goal from his back in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. When 99 percent of people thought the play was over, Ovechkin had other thoughts. The determination and perseverance he possesses are forces to be reckoned with.
As a neutral fan in this situation, I didn’t know which team I wanted to get behind. Do I root for the first-year Cinderella team in the Golden Knights or do I root for Ovechkin and the Capitals? I couldn’t find an answer to that question throughout the series. It wasn’t until after the Capitals bested the Golden Knights four-to-one that I had my answer.
Following Game 5, Ovechkin was presented with the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs — a well deserved award. After receiving his MVP trophy, he was the first person to hoist the greatest trophy in professional sports, the Stanley Cup. As he lifted the 35-pound prize, Ovechkin let out one of the most triumphant screams I had ever heard. The only time he wasn’t screaming was when he was kissing the trophy. As he skated around the arena with the cup in hand, tears came to his eyes and fans of both teams cheered in celebration for Ovi.
At that moment, the answer to my seemingly unsolvable question was obvious. I wanted Ovechkin to win. There are few athletes in the world of professional sports that can maintain the amount of perseverance and dedication Ovechkin has demonstrated throughout his career. Despite coming short of a championship in 12 consecutive seasons, the Capitals finished first place in their division seven times under Ovechkin. That is a frustrating statistic for a captain to swallow. Take the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example. They mount a dominant season, have high postseason expectations set on them, make a deep playoff run and they fail short.
It always makes me smile to see NHL players celebrate with the Cup in their hometowns following the championship. There is something so pure about it. Walking around, living your daily life, lugging a 35-pound trophy. Every Cup winner does this; its a way to show off and remember your hard work and dedication. Throughout my years as a hockey fan, I have seen some outrageous pictures and videos with the cup, but nothing can top the media that came from Ovechkin’s tour. He had a full day with the Cup, performing a “keg stand” on the Cup and then jumping into a fountain. Ovi capped off the night by saying goodnight to the Cup and spending the night with Lord Stanley’s Cup right by his side.
An underdog story always makes me happy. Seeing a team come out of nowhere and steal a title is one of the most exciting moments in sports. But for me, a story of dedication and perseverance like Ovechkin’s will top an underdog story every time.
Sam Arslanian is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs every other week.