Wayne Gretzky said he hopes he is the first person to shake Alex Ovechkin's hand if Ovechkin breaks his all-time goals record.
"I'm rooting for him as hard as anybody," Gretzky told NBC Sports on Monday, in his first joint interview with Ovechkin. "I think it will be a great, wonderful day for hockey when he breaks the record."
Both players were effusive in their admiration of each other during the one-hour video call, which was hosted by Kathryn Tappen.
"We have a really great relationship," Ovechkin said. "He's always supporting me."
Gretzky said he plans to follow Ovechkin on the road once the Washington Capitals captain comes close to his record of 894 career goals, just like Gordie Howe did for Gretzky in 1994.
"I remember when I was breaking Gordie Howe's record, my dad said to me at one point in time, 'Your record is going to be broken one day, and I hope you have as much class and dignity as Gordie Howe has had with you breaking his record,'" Gretzky said. "And I hope I do. I hope I'm the first guy that's able to shake his hand when he does break my record. I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that he has a great chance to do that."
At the time of his retirement in 1999, Wayne Gretzky held or shared 61 official NHL records.
Now, 21 years later, Gretzky holds or shares 60 official NHL records. However, everyone in hockey is eyeing the goal record, as Ovechkin is just 188 goals away from tying Gretzky.
If the 34-year-old Ovechkin maintains his career 0.63 goals-per-game pace, he could catch Gretzky in 309 games. That's roughly four seasons. Gretzky said he watches almost all of Ovechkin's games.
Tappen asked Ovechkin how long he would like to keep playing. "We'll see," Ovechkin said. "I have one more year [on my contract] after this season, and we'll see. If I'm healthy, praise god, and I still love this game. ... As soon as I am not going to love this game, I'm not going to cheat on it. Because I respect it a lot."
It's a busy week for Gretzky and Ovechkin. On Wednesday, the two will square off in EA Sports' NHL 20 on the Capitals' Twitch channel. All proceeds raised will go to the Edmonton Food Bank and Monumental Sports & Entertainment's "Feeding the Frontlines" fund, which supports COVID-19 relief in the D.C. area.
Gretzky pitched the idea to the Capitals after seeing a video of Ovechkin on Instagram, playing the video game, with his toddler son, Sergei, sitting on his lap. "I'm excited about it," Ovechkin said, noting he doesn't play a lot of EA NHL, but prefers other video games. "But I'm going to try my best to beat Wayne."
In Monday's interview on NBC, Ovechkin asked Gretzky for advice on what he should do to stay prepared during this uncertain time, as the NHL is on pause due to COVID-19, but trying to resume play this summer. Gretzky told Ovechkin he would probably try to find the closest thing he could to hockey, and suggested Ovechkin get a pair of rollerblades.
Gretzky also revealed that he gave Ovechkin advice in February when Ovechkin was stuck at goal No. 699. "I texted him: '699, not a lot of people had been there," Greyzky said. "I don't think a lot of people realize the microscope you're under. ... Just relax. You're going to be at 700, and real quick you'll be at 800."
Ovechkin noted he was a little stressed and wanted to get the 700th goal over with.
"Pressure was on," Ovechkin said. "But my teammates obviously do a great job, too, to set up me for moments and chances. We all knew it's gonna happen, and when it happens, it's gonna be a relief off your shoulder."
Gretzky and Ovechkin also recalled the first time they met for dinner in Malibu in 2016, when the Capitals were on a California road trip.
"Of course you want to meet the great one," Ovechkin said. "When you're a little kid, you just want to shake his hand. Even right now, I'm talking with Wayne on the phone, it's a huge privilege."
Gretzky remembers being "fascinated" by Ovechkin because of the questions he asked. "[Ovechkin] wasn't so much about individualism, scoring goals and how to become a better player," Gretzky said. "The whole night was all questions about, 'What can I do?' and 'What do I need to do as captain to help get our team over the hump?' What can I do to contribute to winning a Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals, and the city of Washington? I remember leaving there thinking, wow, this is so unique.
"We could have talked about anything -goals, assists, games, memories. And really Alex, the only thing he had on his mind was, 'I have to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Washington.' I knew then and there, leaving the restaurant, that he was going to win the Stanley Cup."
Gretzky won four Stanley Cups. Ovechkin and the Capitals won their first in 2018.