On the morning of what would be his first game with the Washington Capitals
, Feb. 29 against New Jersey, center Sergei Fedorov
was spotted outside his dressing room skipping rope at a feverish pace.
"It's something I do for five minutes every morning, especially game days," Fedorov said. "It's a good aerobic exercise that stimulates some of the muscles I'll need over the course of a game. It's worked for me so far, so no sense stopping now."
In the middle of Fedorov's routine, 22-year-old teammate Alex Ovechkin darts out of the dressing room. He glances at members of the media to his right, smiles and points playfully to Fedorov on his left, as if to say, "Hey, get a load of this guy." Fedorov spots the young Russian, smiles and speaks to him in their native tongue while continuing his rope-jumping. Ovechkin responds with a grin and goes on his way.
It was the first time Ovechkin had witnessed Fedorov's game-day ritual and, perhaps one day, he'll even join the spry 38-year-old for one of his rope-skipping sessions. Fedorov is quick to point out, however, that's entirely up to Ovechkin.
"Honestly, with all due respect, even though Alex is young, he does know a lot about the game, as do all young players in the League," Fedorov told NHL.com. "If I want to offer a message or advice, I must do so in a respectful way because I do respect each and every one of them. The young guys remind me a lot of myself when I started out. I was respected by older players because I was able to do a lot on the ice and, I believe, helped bring the team closer together.
"Like I've always said, I will give my signature (on a) stick away to any young player in exchange for his signature on his stick."
Still, Ovechkin realizes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with -- and learn from -- one of Russia's most tantalizing athletes.
"Sergei is an unbelievable player and I know he'll help us a lot because he has great experience," Ovechkin said. "He's also a good person off the ice and that's just as important. I'm just going to enjoy this time because the addition of Sergei and the other players (goalie Cristobal Huet and winger Matt Cooke) at the deadline have made us a better team. I've noticed the impact already that it has had on this locker room. Sergei is a superstar because he prepares the right way."
The addition of Fedorov, the fourth Russian playing for the Capitals, provides coach Bruce Boudreau with depth down the middle. It's a situation for which the coach is grateful, particularly after center Michael Nylander went lost for the season with a shoulder injury in December.
"Sergei's a top-six forward, will play on our power-play unit and will be our second-line center," Boudreau said. "It certainly gives us more balance, something we haven't had since Michael went down."
When asked about coaching four Russians, Boudreau smiled and jokingly admitted; "I hope they speak more English than Russian so we can understand them."
He then turned more serious when discussing his Russian contingent, which includes Ovechkin, Fedorov, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov.
"I don't look at it as having four Russian players, but four quality players," he said. "Detroit had five (Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov) a few years ago. I'm not putting us in the same category as Detroit, but all good players are good players, no matter where they are from."
As expected, the four Russians have stalls side-by-side in the dressing room.
"I remember the 'Big Five' in Detroit; it was an unbelievable time for me," Fedorov admitted. "But this is a different time with different players. I'm getting another shot and am just trying to dig in and play as hard as I can to make it work. Hopefully, we'll come together to the point where we're comfortable with one another to help this team win."
Fedorov, in his 17th NHL season, played in Detroit from 1990 to 2003, filling a critical role on three Stanley Cup title teams. The six-time NHL All-Star also won two Selke trophies for being the League's best defensive forward, and took home the 1994 Hart and Lester B. Pearson awards. He remains the all-time leader in games played (1,181), points (1,134) and assists (664) among Russian-born players. He is four goals shy of passing Alexander Mogilny to become the leading goal-scorer among Russian players; Mogilny had 473 in 16 NHL seasons.
Despite that impressive resume, Fedorov insists; "I don't want to be a big brother to the younger guys; I just want to become a brother."
The chance to skate with Ovechkin, winner of the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2005-06, excites Fedorov, who has nine goals and 20 assists in 54 games this season. He also owns a 55.6 faceoff winning percentage.
"(Ovechkin's) one of those players who can come at you at different angles and is so skilled," said Fedorov, now playing with his fourth NHL team. "He handles the puck as well as anyone and has a great one-timer. Alex is one of the most complete players to come out of Russia that I have seen in a long time.
"I still feel young and love this game and the way he plays is very encouraging and I'm excited to be a part of it. I feel I play my best with the younger guys."
Fedorov recalls the pivotal moment of his career as a budding superstar.
"I remember the turning point in my career was, as a young player on the Red Army Team, having a lot of veterans who were extremely supportive," said Fedorov, discussing a team that included Fetisov, Larionov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. "Not one came over top of me, but, instead, right beside me to offer advice. That's the type of player I want to be for our young players."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.