Mike McKenna looks back fondly on allowing Alex Ovechkin’s ‘hot stick’ celebration

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Bijan Todd
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Goalie who allowed Ovechkin’s ‘hot stick’ celebration looks back fondly originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal during the 2008-2009 season, it wasn’t the goal itself that made international headlines. Rather, the only thing hockey fans could talk about was his ‘hot stick' celebration. Long-time Washington sports fans know the exact moment to which those two words refer.

The Capitals would beat the Lightning 5-2 in the contest, but Tampa goalie Mike McKenna specifically remembers his reaction to Ovechkin’s controversial celebration. During a recent edition of Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘I was in the Net For’ series, he details what it was like to be on the receiving end of Ovechkin’s viral moment.

“I turned around to grab a drink out of my water bottle…and I look over and out of the corner of my eye I see this going on, and I’m like ‘What is he doing?’ I was mad about it,” McKenna said, who was just a wide-eyed rookie netminder at the time. “I’m already embarrassed enough. It’s my first year, I’m trying my best out here and this guy’s crushing me.”

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McKenna surely wasn’t the only one who was furious over Ovi’s celebration at the time. Several hockey media pundits, such as Mike Milbury and Don Cherry, let their ire be known over the air. McKenna thinks that if he had a more established NHL résumé, he wouldn’t have sat idly by either.

“I honestly think if I’d been comfortable in the league, I woulda slashed his stick to the next zip code, you know what I mean? That’s your in-the-moment, fire reaction. You’re mad, right? It’s a big ‘What the [expletive]?’ moment, really,” McKenna said. But he knew he couldn’t at the time, given his status in the league as opposed to Ovechkin’s. “I’m an absolute peasant out here right now. I’m probably lucky I got this break in the first place. I don’t want to be known as the guy who one, got hot sticked, and then two, ten games into his career, broke Ovechkin’s wrist for doing it."

Does McKenna still feel hostility toward Ovechkin for the celebration? Absolutely not, and for a great reason: Ovechkin apologized personally.

“We talked about it after, and I don’t know if it was maybe a week later, whenever was the next time. I’ll never forget—I remember just saying hi and him saying ‘I did not mean embarrass or disrespect you or anything. I thought we were having fun,’” McKenna said. “He was apologetic about it…and you know what? I was totally cool with it. Like, for him to even take that time to just be a human and say, ‘This is what I was feeling in the moment.’ I have a hard time holding that against anybody, especially if they can have the humility to think maybe it wasn’t nice or right or whatever. Yeah, that was a nice moment afterwards.”

Today, McKenna takes it like a champ. In fact, he’s proud of the fact he will forever be associated with such a monumental hockey milestone. “It’s a cool moment! Like, this is a historical moment in the NHL that I was a part of. And it may not have been for the reasons I wanted to…and so, I look back on it and I smile. I’m proud to be a part of that now.”