The greatest plays in sports history are often brought about by circumstance.
The pass that led to Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” caromed away from its intended target toward the ground, allowing Harris to pluck the ball near his shoestrings and shockingly run into the end zone for a 13-7 Steelers win in Pittsburgh’s 1972 AFC divisional playoff game against the Raiders.
NC State basketball’s stunning upset of Houston in the championship game of the 1983 NCAA Tournament doesn’t happen without the right place, right time miss by Dereck Whittenburg that Lorenzo Charles dunked home to give the Wolfpack the title.
But make no mistake: What Carolina Hurricanes 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov did on Oct. 29 against the Calgary Flames didn’t require luck, a fortuitous bounce or well-timed airball.
“He practices it every day, for the last two years,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said after that game. “And he did it, I’m sure, as a kid. He never misses it in practice, so it was just a matter of time before it was going to happen.”
What Svechnikov did was score a lacrosse-style goal from behind the Flames net, swooping the puck onto his stick blade and tucking it over Calgary goalie David Rittich’s right shoulder and into the top corner of the net to tie the game at 1 just before the midway point of the third period.
For good measure, Svechnikov scored a power play goal — this time on a more conventional wrist shot — just over three minutes later to give Carolina a 2-1 win against their old coach, the since-disgraced Bill Peters.
“I practice with Rod a lot,” Svechnikov said. “He passes me like I’m going behind the net and I try that move. So almost like every practice.”
The goal — best known and long called the “Michigan” after being done by the Wolverines’ Mike Legg in a 1996 NCAA Tournament game and never before executed in an NHL game — sent a shockwave through the hockey world and was considered an immediate contender for goal of the year.
It’s also NSJ’s Play of the Year for 2019.
It’s something Svechnikov had thought about — and practiced — for a long time.
“I saw (Mikael) Granlund score on it against Russia, so I saw that,” Svechnikov said of the Finland forward’s goal in the 2011 World Championships. “My brother actually taught me how to do that move, so it’s great.”
He tried to score on the move in his rookie season against the Blue Jackets last year and, as he said, learned it from his older brother Evgeny, a Red Wings prospect.
“It’s going to be tough for him to get that off again now,” Brind’Amour said, “everybody knows about it.”
Everyone certainly knew. But in case there were any doubters, Svechnikov went and did it again to silence any doubters.
With the score tied 2-2 in Winnipeg on Dec. 17, Svechnikov swooped behind the Jets net and guided the puck past Connor Hellebucyk for the go-ahead goal in an eventual 6-3 win.
Svechnikov 2, History of the NHL 0.
“I had a lot of room there,” Svechnikov told CarolinaHurricanes.com. “I just tried to put it in the net as quickly as I could.”
It’s just another tool Svechnikov can use in his ever-evolving Swiss Army knife of talents. Known as a goal scorer coming into the draft — where Carolina took him second overall in the summer of 2018 — Svechnikov found the net 20 times as a rookie.
He’s continued to score in his sophomore campaign but also become one of the team’s top puck distributors as well — Svechnikov is on pace for nearly 50 assists as 2020 approaches.
Those who watch hockey know there’s a whole lot more to Svechnikov than just a couple highlight-reel goals, but even modest followers of the sport recognize his name because he pulled off the Michigan.
”The Svechy move?” captain Jordan Staal said after he did it a second time. “Yeah, I think we’re going to call it that now.”