As the students in her second-grade class at Arlington Traditional School finished their lunches Tuesday, Vicky Flynt instructed everyone to tidy their desks. They were about to welcome a special mystery guest, someone far more interesting than any of the media members who arrived a few minutes earlier under the guise of doing a story about the excitement of back-to-school season, so as not to spoil the surprise.
“Is it the mayor?” a little girl asked between bites of a cheese stick.
Flynt evidently hasn’t reached the local government portion of this year’s curriculum, but any of her students who were hoping to meet an elected county official were about to be sorely disappointed when D.C. sports royalty showed up instead. Alex Ovechkin walked into the classroom in his red Capitals sweater and shorts bearing gifts — a shopping cart full of boxes of Ovi O’s, his new cereal.
“I think it’s breakfast time for you guys, no?” Ovechkin said.
The ensuing silence suggested that it was not or perhaps that everyone was still full from lunch or had no idea who this strange man with cuts all over his face was. Or maybe it was all of the above. The visit would only get better from there.
The classroom was Ovechkin’s first stop on an Ovi O’s promotional tour that featured a visit with kids at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and ended at a Giant supermarket in D.C., where the Capitals captain worked the checkout line for several giddy customers, including his wife.
Ovi O’s will be available exclusively at Giant stores in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Delaware beginning Sept. 17, Ovechkin’s 34th birthday. The Stanley Cup champion taste-tested his honey-nut cereal during the development process, but on Tuesday, he sought the approval of the final product by Flynt’s students.
“Try it, open it, tell me if it’s good,” said Ovechkin, who sat down at a desk and, over a bowl of cereal, answered a variety of questions that were tougher than most of the inquiries he’s used to facing in the locker room.
Can you have orange hair?
“Yeah, why not?” Ovechkin said. “I have gray hair.”
What did you eat out of the Stanley Cup?
“We used it for everything,” Ovechkin said. “We were drinking from it. It was juice!”
Did you win the Cup more than once?
“No, only once,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard.”
During the visit, Ovechkin traded his spoon for a pencil and breezed through a two-sided addition work sheet, earning an A-plus. Judging by his struggles making change as a cashier at Giant a couple of hours later, Ovechkin’s subtraction skills could use some work.
Ovechkin was an unusually intimidating presence, with a nasty cut on the bridge of his nose, a scrape above his left eye and scratches on both hands, the result of a bike accident over the weekend. He looked as if he could have been wearing Halloween makeup or, as one customer at Giant remarked, “like he’d been in a train wreck.”
“There are some differences,” a little girl told Ovechkin, comparing the image of his smiling face on the front of his cereal box to the man staring back at her.
Ovechkin later told reporters that the accident happened during a training session on a hill near his house.
“The bike broke, my pedals broke — stuck,” he said. “I didn’t have time to figure out what to do. Thank God I had a helmet on me.”
After his brief return to school, Ovechkin headed to Georgetown to meet with patients in the pediatric hematology and oncology clinic. A portion of the proceeds from Ovi O’s will benefit the Maryland-based Children’s Cancer Foundation Inc., a nonprofit committed to funding local researchers, programs and facilities.
“Milk is the key ingredient to good cereal,” a boy in a “We Got Stanley” T-shirt proclaimed as Ovechkin prepared to eat his second helping of the day.
Ovechkin posed for selfies, signed autographs and showed off his cereal’s augmented reality feature. Scanning the front of the Ovi O’s box in Snapchat reveals an interactive hockey game, wherein the user controls a digital Ovechkin as he shoots pieces of his cereal at moving targets.
From Georgetown, it was off to the Giant in Cathedral Heights, where Ovechkin, who did not participate in the Capitals’ informal skate Tuesday morning, was put to work. So much for a maintenance day.
After changing into his personalized Giant employee uniform — black pants, a black shirt and an “OVI” name tag — Ovechkin rolled a cart of Ovi O’s to the cereal aisle — No. 8, coincidentally — and stocked the shelves as onlookers in Capitals gear snapped photos.
Ovechkin then moved to the checkout register and, with the help of a patient Giant employee named Bruce, began ringing up customers. The line moved slower than it normally would as Ovechkin signed boxes of cereal and posed for more photos. Ovechkin seemed to be getting the hang of things when his wife, Nastya, arrived at the front of the line with a cart full of produce, including apples and avocados, with no bar codes to scan. Ovechkin was flustered.
“I’m mad at her,” Ovechkin joked afterward. “We tried to do one thing, and she gave me lots of different stuff.”
Mary Ford, a die-hard fan from Annapolis who has met several Capitals at similar player appearances at Giant over the years, purchased two boxes of Ovi O’s and had Ovechkin sign them both.
“I’m trying to limit myself,” she said.
Before the end of his first shift of the season, Ovechkin got on Giant’s intercom system to share one final message: “Attention Giant shoppers,” he said. “Don’t forget your Ovi O’s. See you guys on the ice. Bye.”
“They were happy. They were smiling,” Ovechkin said of the people he encountered on Tuesday’s tour. “Everybody had fun, so that’s why we do it.”
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