When Alex Ovechkin came to the Washington Capitals in 2005, the team had the same meal ordered to the practice facility after every game-day morning skate. It was a large spread from Mamma Lucia's, a local Italian chain. Think: carbs, sauces, more carbs.
"It's a tradition from day one," Ovechkin told ESPN before the season. "They have the Italian food always when we came to the rink, and it's very delicious."
Up to 10 guys were in on the order back then. By 2012, the group dwindled down to a half dozen. And then, just before the 2017-18 season began, David Kottler, the general manager of the Bethesda, Maryland, location, received a call from Washington's director of team services, Rob Tillotson, with a new edict: The order is down to one.
"I knew right away," Kottler says. "The one was Ovi. And you can't say no to Ovi."
NHL players are more health-conscious than ever. Consider that many players have swapped Gatorade for coconut water, because they want electrolytes, but they prefer them naturally -- and without artificial dyes. The postgame offerings in any locker room feature everything from portioned pieces of energy bars to organic cherry juice.
Ovechkin? He's always been loyal to habit. He's been known to drink Coca-Cola not only before games but sometimes between periods.
As it was summed up best by Ovechkin's good friend, linemate and countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov: "Hockey changes, everyone changes. Now everybody eats the healthy food," says Kuznetsov. "But with this, [Ovechkin] keeps it the same."
That means the same meal, prepped the same way, every day. A cook begins at around 9 a.m. He takes a pre-breaded chicken cutlet from the refrigerator and plops it into a sizzling fryer. He then takes out four separate sauce pans. In one goes a generous slab of butter and fresh parsley. In another, mushrooms. In one, ground meat, and the other, garlic oil. They sizzle as two of them are doused in heavy cream (for mushroom marsala and traditional Alfredo). One becomes a traditional meat sauce, and the other a marinara.
They are poured into four to-go containers as the chicken is elevated from the fryer, slathered with marinara and three slices of provolone, and put into the oven for chicken parm. Plain spaghetti is heated in a pan with oil. Two hand-sized loaves of bread are packed up, and voila: Ovechkin's favorite meal.
When Kevin Shattenkirk was acquired by the Capitals last season, he was in awe of Ovechkin's platter -- if only for the fact that the Russian star could eat it before a game. "I dabbled in it one day," Shattenkirk said in September. "But it's a little too heavy for me."
If Ovechkin is anything, he's consistent. Through 13 seasons in the league, he has never scored fewer than 30 goals. Even when he has an off season -- such as 2016-17, when his ice time was shaved down to 18:22 per game, more than two minutes below his career average, and he scored only 33 goals -- he's still one of the most dominant players in the league.
Ovechkin is a throwback, though many, including the captain's own general manager, have wondered if Ovechkin can adapt to the quicker, modern NHL. "He's getting into the low 30s, and he's going to have to think of ways that he can evolve into a player that still has a major impact on the game," GM Brian MacLellan told reporters at this time last year, after yet another early playoff ouster. "The game is getting faster; he's going to have to train in a different way, a more speed way than a power way. He's going to have to make adjustments to stay [relevant] in the game."
It's easy to surmise that the 2017-18 Ovechkin, who has finally made it to the sacred Stanley Cup Final, has indeed changed. But perhaps it's the same old Ovechkin, and it's the dynamics around him -- including the burden of winning -- that have shifted.
Whatever the case, Ovechkin seems immune to outside noise. His commitment is unwavering.
About three months ago, he took his wife to the Mamma Lucia's in Bethesda. "I'll have what I have," Ovechkin said. His wife ordered a salad with salmon.