Editor’s note: Reader Jerry Moxley is just your average, amateur hockey player, but he has got one of the greatest “meet your hero” stories we’ve ever read.
If you can make a living doing something you love, consider yourself lucky. I was able to take my interest in television and make a career out of it, but I put on my hockey skates too late to become more than a beer-league weekend warrior. With the birth of my second daughter, I decided to take more work on the side to pay the bills. One day, through Russian Machine Never Breaks and Carlyn Davis Casting, I learned that there was a commercial being filmed at my home rink in Laurel, MD that needed ice rink extras. I emailed the casting agency with the expectation that of a little extra money and maybe a spot in a blurry background somewhere. It turned out to be something bigger.
Suzanne Kang, the casting director, was recruiting for another commercial to be filmed downtown at the Verizon Center that needed crowd extras. I made myself available. A couple of days before the shoot, I received a call from the casting director asking me if I was interested in being on ice for the commercial. They needed extras to portray NHL players, and she recalled that I play. Spending the day on skates sounded more fun than sitting in the stands, so I said yes without hesitation. She told me to be downtown for a wardrobe fitting the day before the shoot.
That Sunday afternoon was a game day for the Caps, so I decided to take my five-year-old daughter to the game after the fitting. I drove down to Hotel Monaco and met the directors and the wardrobe coordinator. There were also two other players and a referee trying on gear. The directors met with us to go over the details of the shoot and told us that we would be on the ice playing against Alexander Ovechkin and a few other Capitals. I looked around at the others there and knew that we were all trying hard to hold the excitement in. I left the hotel and told my daughter what her Daddy was going to be doing the next day. She was as excited as I was.
The next morning I took the Metro back downtown (try carrying a hockey bag and sticks on a train during rush hour and see how many looks you get). We were taken to a dressing room across from the Capitals locker room. The on-ice portion of the commercial wasn’t going to happen until the afternoon, so we spent the morning watching other scenes being shot and visiting the craft services table. Game announcer Wes Johnson was there to film a bit of him announcing yet another Ovechkin goal. I tracked down Suzanne to find out the details of the shoot. She told me that indeed Ovechkin would be on the ice as well as Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and John Carlson. I couldn’t get my skates on fast enough.
After lunch we were told to get dressed, and I was outfitted in a #16 Los Angeles Kings jersey. Later someone told me that the last player to wear that number for the Kings was Sean Avery. Great, I thought. I’m representing my least favorite player in the NHL. We took the ice and got to warm up before the cameras started rolling. I noticed the door to the Caps locker room was open and the players were on their way to the ice. Carlson came out first and offered a handshake to all of us. Backstrom came out next, introducing himself as Nicky. Ovechkin followed, saying hey with a fist bump for each of us. Green must have had equipment issues because he made it out a few minutes behind the rest. I spent the next few minutes trying to balance my desire to look professional with my enthusiasm of being on the ice with some of the best players in the world.
The first setup was going to be 4-on-2 break up the ice with Oveckin coming into the zone and scoring a goal. I was assigned the job of defending against the world’s greatest player. The directors told me to “act” like he was getting around me to score. I assured them that wouldn’t require any acting– it was just going to happen. Someone yelled “action”, and Backstrom passed it over to Ovechkin on the left wing to start the first take. Ovechkin barreled down the wing, and I stepped in front of him at the blue line. In a blink of an eye Ovi threw the puck into his skates, kicked it to his backhand and moved around me. By the time I turned around, the puck was in the net. The four players in red all piled into the corner, celebrating, as the assembled crowd cheered and we were left to shrug our shoulders and offer fake condolences to our goalie.
At first we kept to ourselves and stayed out of the way between takes while the Caps players congregated on the bench. After the first few takes I noticed a puck floating towards me. I looked up and Backstrom was tossing me passes from the other end of the rink. It was quite a feeling to receive a pass from one of the greatest passers in the NHL. I launched a sixty-foot pass back at him and we all started playing a little game of four corners. Carlson threw me a pass and all I could think about was his gold-medal-winning goal against Canada in the World Junior Championship. I flung a puck to Green, and I thought about the defenseman’s record-breaking eight-game scoring streak last season. And then there’s getting passes from the Great 8. I thought about all those goals I’ve seen him score, whether from a seat in the 400’s or the sofa in my basement. I thought about all the hat tricks and “the goal” scored from his back in Phoenix.
We filmed the same sequence roughly a dozen times, and each time Ovi would do something different so I never knew which way he was going. One of the directors huddled all of us up on the ice, took out his laptop and showed us the goal Ovi scored against Montreal. Everyone has seen that goal – the one where he throws a pass to himself off the boards, spins around one defender, gathers the puck, and then lifts a shot over Carey Price as he gets hauled down by another defender. He asks Ovi if he can do something like that again. Before the next take Alex told me to just back into the zone and he was going to chip the puck up over my stick and go to my right. When the cameras started rolling, he burst up the left side, chipped the puck into the air, batted it up over my head (I’m 6’4″, no easy task) and roofed a shot into the top corner. It was a thrill I’ll never forget.
Once the crew got what they needed, we were asked to change into St. Louis Blues gear. The next sequence was a power play setup in the zone where Ovi was to make a move around me from the half-wall and score once again. We did this sequence seven or eight times with a staged celebration at the end of each. The assistant director told me to play Ovechkin a little closer each time, ultimately telling me to just go ahead and put a little shoulder into him. I was hesitant at first; I didn’t want to cause some accidental injury, and I certainly didn’t want to end up laying on the ice. But each time he got the puck and blew past me, I got to put a little hit into him.
In between takes we started an impromptu shinny game with the four Capitals players against us “actors”. At first we kind of let them dangle around and shoot but then we decided to play back at them a little. At one point Ovechkin decided to curl-and-drag through my legs, but I closed my skates and snared the puck from him. How many chances do you get like that in life? Even though these guys are the best in the game, it started to feel like a bunch of kids playing in the backyard. It was lots of fun, and I didn’t want to take my skates off when it was over.
After the crew got enough footage filmed, the players retired to the locker room while Ovi stayed on the ice for one additional shot. We met Nate Ewell and Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt from the Caps PR team, and they actually interviewed us for the Caps website. It was comical to answer questions in character like “how is it playing for St. Louis?” and “do you miss D.J. King?” Soon after, our fun was up and we retired to change back into our everyday clothes. We filled out our paperwork and had to return all of our gear (unfortunately) to the wardrobe department. I headed out with Suzanne and a few other people from the shoot and we re-lived the day’s events over dinner and drinks in Chinatown.
We were told not to talk about the details of the shoot until the commercial aired. I’d be lying if I said I kept my lips sealed 100%. Opportunities like this don’t come around too often, and I wanted to share stories with the people closest to me. I’ll continue to play as long as my body will allow. I know I’ll never play beyond beer-league hockey, but I can always say that for one day I got to skate with the best!
The final version of the Ovechtrick Commercial which debuted during the Winter Classic