The Washington Capitals held a digital press conference with Alex Ovechkin on Thursday, celebrating The Great 8’s five-year contract extension that will keep him in the District through 2026.
Hosted by NBC Sports Washington’s Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin, the press conference served more like a live video podcast between Ovechkin and representatives from the Capitals organization, which included majority owner Ted Leonsis, president Dick Patrick, and GM Brian MacLellan.
The format allowed Leonsis, an emotional, sentimental, and articulate person, the opportunity to share several stories about Ovechkin from his past, including the first night he met him at the 2004 NHL Draft in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Ovechkin apparently was very hungry.
🚨 TUNE IN NOW 🚨
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) July 29, 2021
These legendary Ovechkin stories from Leonsis are presented in full and are unedited.
Ted Leonsis: I have a very special, pardon my heart – my family to Alex’s family because I remember spending time in a pool with Alex and telling him how hard this was going to be and that we were in it together. Just to see how this story continues where he joined us, and really through force of will and working with everyone in the organization, made us a good team. And then, he showed his appreciation to us and I give Dick Patrick all of the credit for signing this 13-year deal that you have to admit flew by really, really quickly! And then for Alex to be steadfast, if you will, in his loyalty and integrity and wanna stay with the organization.
There are very few great players that can say they started and ended their career in the same place and did it as a champion. This last five years, I’m not going to say it’s the last five years. Who knows what happens afterward. We want to win another Stanley Cup. I think that’s what’s most important to our community that we still have upside. We can still be a really, really great team, make the playoffs, and move forward.
To have Nick, and John Carlson, and Alex as kind of the three bedrock players on the team is a great message for us to be sending to players that we draft and we develop that we can be loyal and we can be trusted and we can build something great together.
Alex the other day, someone sent me a gift. A draft ticket from the RBC Center in 04. I hadn’t had one. It’s really, really a cool remembrance. Someone asked me what I remember most about that. I do remember giving him a hug on stage and feeling his heart beating and then going to meet all the fans. Alex being the first one to attend shook everyone’s hand. Had a great time and ate eight cantaloupes. This is my kind of guy. Full-time energy. This is just going to be a joy. And every single day has been fantastic. Truth is, short of my wife, my children, some of my partners, the Ovechkins and Alex is the most important relationship to us because of meaning our word to each other so thank you, Alex. Thank you for continuing that. Thank you for the whole community because this meant a lot to all of us.
For the record, an average cantaloupe weighs three pounds, according to thekitchn.com, so Leonsis is insinuating that the Russian machine consumed nearly 25 pounds of fruit that night. In past interviews, Leonsis said to ESPN’s Scott Burnside that he thought Ovechkin ate three cantaloupes that night and in the 2010 book The Ovechkin Project, he ate one. So while the story is changing and evolving, the takeaway remains the same: Ovechkin ate a lot of damn fruit that night.
I have vivid memories of Ovi never without a toothpick between his fingers. ALL THE CANTALOUPE.
— 📣📣📣 Sam Wolk (@TheHornGuy) July 29, 2021
Leonsis was later asked by Beninati and Laughlin if he anticipated how iconic Ovechkin’s career would turn out to be.
Ted Leonsis: Well, remember back in those days, the scouts would call you in and they’d show you video. I remember the video of Alex I saw, I’d never seen him play, was on my computer screen. It was like a tiny little box. It had bad lighting, shaky camera. No idea on earth what he could do. Obviously trusted the scouts.
I do remember the very first day of practice, Olie was our goaltender and leader, and he walked up the ice, and I said to him, ‘So what did you think of Alex?’ And he said, ‘He’s the greatest player I’ve ever played against.’ I said ‘C’mon Olie, you’re just saying that to be nice.’ He said, ‘No, I’m telling you. The way he skates, the way he shoots, the way he handles the puck, the energy in practice, he’s the greatest player I’ve ever played against. He’ll be the greatest player in the franchise’s history.’ And honestly, that was the first practice of his Day One here.
And I can’t forget the very first game, the game was on television the other day, and I don’t mean this to sound the wrong way, but I didn’t know very many of the players anymore. I wouldn’t say that was a powerhouse team, which was what we talked about with Alex. I said, ‘Look, the reason why we were able to draft you number one is because we’re not a very good team. And so there’s going to be a lot of pain and suffering along the way, but if we stick with this together, we’ll put something together built to last.’ Which is what this has become. I remember the very first game, the very first play, he knocked the guy through the glass – shattered the glass. Scored the goal, ‘Welcome on board,’ Joe said. That really brought back warm memories.
I will say that it looked like it was from 100 years ago. The quality of the lighting. Not a single person in the arena wearing red. We’ve come a long way together, Alex, and we’re really grateful to what you brought to our community and our team.
Ted, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
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