|Alexander Ovechkin has been one of the NHL's three stars of the week, three times this year. Ovechkin highlights
The ribbing started only hours after the ink dried on Alexander Ovechkin's historic contract in early January. As hockey players, Ovechkin's teammates knew they couldn't let such a grand opportunity for practical jokes and playful teasing go to waste.
Inside the insane world of a hockey dressing room, that would have been a sin.
“Oh yeah, we still do it, everyday,” Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green told NHL.com. “We bug him about girls. We always say he's not going to get a girl with that mug, but after this new contract it doesn't really matter. He plays it off and he'll chirp back, but it still doesn't compare to how we chirp at him about his contract.
“He can take it.”
That he can isn't a surprise to anyone in the Capitals' universe.
Even with a 13-year, $124 million contract -- the most lucrative deal in NHL history -- tucked deeply into his back pocket, Ovechkin is still the same energetic extrovert the Capitals drafted with the first overall pick in the 2004 Entry Draft.
He has an incredible appetite for living, and he's always wearing the smile -- now one of the most recognizable gap-tooth grins in the League -- that proves his zeal.
“He handles himself very well in every situation and I think the reason why he does is because his outlook on life is so great,” Green said. “No matter what he's having fun. It doesn't matter what he's doing, whether he's playing hockey at the rink or at home, he's the same.
“Playing with him is quite an experience, that's for sure.”
Coaching him is no different, except Caps coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't quite sure what it would be like when he took over for Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22.
As the former coach of the Hershey Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, Boudreau had very little prior association with Ovechkin. More than two months into Boudreau's Ovechkin experience -- and that's what this is for everyone associated with the Caps -- the coach admits to being blown away by his superstar pupil.
“He made me feel comfortable right away. That's one of the great traits he has,” Boudreau said. “When I talked to him, he talked to me as if I was the coach, not as somebody who was like, 'Hey, don't bother me.' ”
Not every superstar is that way.
Ovechkin isn't your average superstar. Average doesn't jive with his personality.
“The first impression I got was right,” Boudreau added. “I told him I wanted him to do something, and he asked a lot of questions and then said; 'OK coach, fine.' He didn't come up to me and say; 'I don't know if that's going to work,' or 'I don't know if that's me.' I thought he might resist the first thing we did because we had him changing his spot on the power play, but he was fine.
“As I've come to know him, anything that's good for the team is good for Alex.”
One thing that has become a bonanza for the Caps is Ovechkin's relationship with Swedish rookie center Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin and Backstrom have forged a bond while playing on the Caps' top line fueled by their friendship away from the rink.
The results are telling.
Since the two were put together full time on Dec. 14 at home against Buffalo, they’ve combined for 65 points. The Capitals, meanwhile, have surged into playoff contention and are now pushing for the Southeast Division title.
They were dead last on Dec. 14, three points behind the fourth-place Thrashers. As of Monday, the Capitals sit atop the Southeast, leading the tied-for-second Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes by a point.
“It has to work if we're going to win games and make the playoffs,” Backstrom told NHL.com. “We're both from Europe and we're both near the same age. He helped me a lot and I maybe help him, too, but that's hard for me to say. We're good friends off the ice, so it makes it easier on the ice. We can talk.”
He's a very positive guy and when you're positive good things happen to you. - Mike Green
Green, though, said Ovechkin is the same way with everybody. It's par for the course for this outgoing personality who thrives in a crowd of people.
“It's not like he's best friends with every guy, but you're just drawn towards him because of the way he is,” Green said. “He's a very positive guy and when you're positive good things happen to you.”
Asked if he ever wishes Ovechkin would just can it for a day -- even an hour -- Green said no way.
“He's not one of those guys that is annoying and saying dumb things,” Green said. “He's very conservative, but outgoing.”
“Nothing can get his head down,” Backstrom added. “I think I've seen him angry maybe once, and that was when he broke his nose. I think the only thing he needs is a haircut.”
What about a dentist? That smile, after all, could use some fine-tuning.
“No,” Backstrom offered, “I think he looks good.”
“I don't think he wants one,” added Green.
All kidding aside, Ovechkin's zeal for life isn't what landed him that lucrative contract. He vigorously works at his craft, which is about the only side of Ovechkin the public can't see.
“The only thing that the people don't see is that if we're on a plane he's the first one to ask for the tape to look it over. You don't see that,” Boudreau said. “You don't realize how in tune he is with the game. I would venture to say he knows where everybody is in the standings both individually and collectively as a team. He's in tune with this stuff, but outwardly he's always got a smile on his face so you'll never know.”
Nothing new, Green said.
“With fans, I don't think it matters what team they're cheering for, they're coming to watch him play,” Green said. “If I was a fan, I'd come to watch him play for sure. He's something special. If you don't get a chance, you're really missing out.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org