Alex Luey would’ve loved watching Alex Ovechkin score two goals against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday.
It would’ve been another special moment in that building for Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals captain, and Luey, a youth hockey player from Niagara Falls, Ontario, who became Ovechkin’s friend and good luck charm during his three-year battle with cancer that ended Dec. 22, 2019.
Luey wouldn’t have liked that the Capitals lost 5-2 on Friday, but Cat Luey is certain her son would be confident that Washington can overcome losing the first two games and win Game 3 of the best-of-7 series in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Sunday (Noon ET; USA, SN360, TVAS, MSG, MSG+, NBCSWA). Teams with a 2-0 lead are 324-51 (86.4 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series.
“As always,” Cat Luey said Saturday. “He’d have the attitude that they just would. Because he never entertains the fact that things could go wrong. It would be, ‘They will. It’s all good.'”
Luey’s positivity in the face of adversity is one of the reasons Ovechkin took inspiration from him. Luey was 15 years old when he died, but he left a lasting impression on all who witnessed his maturity and courage after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that caused him to have his right leg amputated in September 2016.
That includes Ovechkin, who has had Luey in his thoughts while playing games without fans due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
“It’s definitely difficult being in Toronto and playing in this arena and not be able to see him and his family,” Ovechkin said in a text. “He was such a great kid — always positive, smiling even when he was sick. He was a big inspiration not only to me but our whole team. I think guys really liked him doing the starting lineups and cheering for us.”
Ovechkin first met Luey after Sportsnet held its “Hometown Hockey” telecast in Niagara Falls on Oct. 8, 2017, and hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone surprised Luey with a video message from Ovechkin, his favorite NHL player.
Ovechkin invited Luey to meet the Capitals at their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 25, 2017.
Ovechkin promised Luey he’d score a goal for him and got three in a 4-2 victory.
Ovechkin also scored in two other games Luey attended that season and invited him and his family to Washington for the Capitals parade after they won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
The kind gestures went beyond that. Ovechkin would call Alex on his birthday and before surgeries to check in on him and offer encouragement.
“It was just an easy relationship between him and Ovi,” Cat Luey said. “Alex didn’t ask for much and received more than he expected. … When Ovi first agreed to meet him, I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is his PR. This is his job. He’s doing a good thing.’ But it didn’t take me long to realize it was more than that. Ovi gave more than just his, ‘OK, I have to spend 10 minutes with this kid.’ There did seem to be that genuine caring, and he would extend that to us as well.”
Although being friends with an NHL superstar and going to a Stanley Cup parade are things any teenager would dream of, Cat Luey said Alex never boasted to his friends. His relationship with Ovechkin was something he preferred to keep mostly private.
“He wouldn’t go out in public the next day and go, ‘My buddy Ovi called me,'” Cat Luey said. “He would never tell people. It was just his. It was something he kept very close to him. He respected Ovi’s privacy and it was his privacy. It was real because it was quiet. It was between the two of them.”
Ovechkin last saw Luey when he attended the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 29, 2019. Luey received special permission to leave the hospital that night and watched Ovechkin get four points (two goals, two assists), including the winning power-play goal.
Afterward, Luey visited the locker room, where he was presented with Washington’s player of the game helmet — a Washington Nationals batting helmet.
“They made that day for him,” Cat Luey said. “It was amazing. The helmet they gave him, the player of the game helmet. It was the time and the effort and the connecting with him that meant so much. Fist bumps as they were going out on the ice. So many of the players tried to connect with and speak with him. It was just amazing.”
Ovechkin wasn’t able to attend Luey’s funeral, but he and the Capitals each sent flowers. Ovechkin also had Sportsnet broadcaster Christine Simpson deliver a special message he texted to her.
“He gave kudos to Scott and I as parents for Alex. That was very touching,” Cat Luey recalled. “He also just said he admired Alex for his bravery and strength. It was well worded. It was nicely put.”
Ovechkin’s relationship with Luey’s family has continued following his death. They were the Capitals’ guests for their game against the Buffalo Sabres at Keybank Center on March 9.
Of course, Ovechkin scored a goal — his 48th of the season to tie David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for the NHL lead — to begin a third-period comeback before losing 3-2 in a shootout.
“I know it’s a difficult time for Scott and Cat and his family,” Ovechkin said. “Just want them to know that I’m thinking of them and hope they are doing well.”