Alex Ovechkin’s date arrived sporting her Alex Ovechkin jersey, size small-medium, and carrying her Alex Ovechkin puck, which she used to prove how the color of Alex Ovechkin’s hair had changed from black to gray. “I’m the mascot, Slapshot,” is how she introduced herself, though on other days she might say something different, just for fun.
Her father, Lou, also wearing his Alex Ovechkin jersey, stood off to the side and explained that her real name is Ann Schaab, age 10, and how she has both Down syndrome and a massive crush on the Capitals captain.
“I think I’m going to marry him,” Ann had said, but she now wondered if the proposal would have to wait. She had come here Sunday morning, on the ninth anniversary of Ovechkin’s NHL debut, by invitation, having skated with Ovechkin at an event several weeks back. She came with the Washington Ice Dogs, a team for developmentally disabled individuals, and once, when an Ovechkin pass found her stick, Ann skated over and invited him to her house, proposing to eat sushi and play kickball.
Many years ago, when Ovechkin was still new to the National Hockey League, Ann’s brother, who has spinal bifida, was cheering at a Capitals game near the luxury suites and got invited inside one by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. Later that night, Ovechkin gave young Louie, now 19, a stick, which made the family fans for life. So now here they were, another memory about to be made, Ann invited several hours before the Capitals faced the Carolina Hurricanes, believing the team had a morning skate, taking a tour of the practice facility, unaware of the surprise to come.
She bounced down the halls in sneakers that blinked blue lights. They passed the rink, where a team official pretended the players couldn’t be found. The Capitals had a game today, and she knew that, but where could they be?
She entered the stick room and found the bundle for No. 8. She passed a picture of Ovechkin hugging Mike Green. She hopped in place.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Awesome. Awesome.”
They went into the gym, which seemed so big, and into the film room, where she wondered if the players watched “Modern Family” and sat in the front-row seat she believed Ovechkin would use. Out in the hallway they found another picture of Ovechkin, holding the old blue jersey, and Ann loved that, because she had the same one at home.
Next came the locker room, which didn’t smell so bad, and over to Ovechkin’s stall, where Ann put on his helmet, which did smell bad, so she made a stinky face. She wondered what could be cooler than this and thought, maybe, asking Ovechkin to marry her would compare. So she stuck out her hand, aimed at her mother, Melissa, and beckoned.
“Mom,” she said. “Ring. Please.”
Then, the back door swung open. Out came Ovechkin, dressed in a suit, carrying a bouquet of roses.
“Hello,” he said. “What’s up? You want to come to the game?”
“Yeah,” she replied. He handed her three tickets, part of the eight he donates every game.
“And you’re going to drive with me,” Ovechkin said, giving her a No. 8 jersey that said her name instead of his.
“I might check with my parents,” Ann said, but Ovechkin promised to drive slow, not fast, and she warned him not to get pulled over for speeding. Then she pulled her father beside Ovechkin and compared their gray hairs. Then Ovechkin took her hand, buckled her into his car and drove to Verizon Center, where she would sit on the bench for warm-ups and the other players.
When the game ended and Ovechkin had scored a goal in a 5-2 win, Ann left her seat in Section 115 – the section for Ovi’s Crazy 8s. She and her parents went to the locker room, where her jersey got signed by the Capitals, and she made defenseman Nate Schmidt smell Ovechkin’s socks. They ran into Coach Barry Trotz, to whom Ovechkin introduced his new girlfriend, to whom Ann asked permission for Ovechkin to visit on her birthday.
Further down the hall, they entered the owner’s lounge and settled into a booth in the back. Ovechkin poured the soy sauce. A waitress brought a platter of salmon rolls, sashimi tuna and eel and avocado. Her parents sat down too, chaperones for the sushi dinner, which was the best date ever.