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‘Shots Of Marrrrtini’: What’s Said & What Goes Into Capitals’ Pregame Tunnel Routine

What goes into the Washington Capitals warmup routine in the tunnel? We took a deep dive into all the happenings behind the scene and have concluded that it’s an exact science.



WASHINGTON — There is an exact science to the Washington Capitals' pregame routine, which takes place in the tunnel prior to warm-ups with captain Alex Ovechkin leading the way.

From the outside — especially for those who have never watched ice hockey — it can seem like a word salad with strange hand gestures and occasional shouting. For the Capitals, it makes complete sense, and it would be odd not to do it.

"It is, uh… it is strange," T.J. Oshie laughed. "But somehow, we all understand what's being said and what's going on. It's kind of like hearing your two-year-old speak. Other people can't understand them, but we know what they're saying, so it's great, it's fine."

Across the league, the Capitals' ritual has earned a reputation as being one of the longest and most intricate in the league. Conor Sheary and Matt Irwin, who have played eight years and 11 years in the NHL with several different clubs, both said that handshake lines aren't uncommon in the league, but Washington has done a good job of setting itself apart.

So, what goes into the routine? According to Oshie, who's been creating new rituals in handshake lines for the 20 years dating back to his Warroad and North Dakota days, it all comes together pretty organically.

"These things just happen," he explained. "We can bring something from what was said in the locker room, something that someone did one time and then they score goals, then they have to do it every time."

"I think it happens one game, and then you just kind of roll with it. For me, that's the most I've seen for like a warm-up handshake line on any team I've been a part of," Irwin said.

It's an intricate process with several moving parts, and a lot of it involves the NHL's second-leading goal scorer of all time, who leads the handshake line.

Tom Wilson, who is finally back after missing eight months due to ACL surgery, is usually one of the first ones dressed and will chest bump Ovechkin three times. Sheary is usually also among the first ready to go, and Ovechkin will exchange a quick high-five with him before saying, "Let's go, sexy boy" (or at times, cutey boy)."

"I think you do it once and either have a good game or something and then it just sticks forever," Sheary said. "II's nothing planned for sure. It's all organic."'

John Carlson, who is out indefinitely, said there are two words that'd sum up the whole routine: loud noises. Ovechkin would recognize Carlson with "I got my chicken parm babe, but," to which Carlson raised his arm up as the Russian held the "but," and when Ovechkin ran out of breath, he asked "whatchu want" as Carlson would point down and then engage in a quick handshake with No. 8. It's a reference to a 2017 Paisano's pizza commercial which starred Wilson and other D.C. sports personalities. Ovechkin is also famous for having chicken parmesan as he pregame meal.

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They'd then wait for Oshie, who Ovechkin greets with a loud and long, "O," which Oshie then reciprocates. The two then high five a few times and get in each other's faces,  shouting out some variation of, "let's fucking go" while chest bumping. the intensity varies on a game-by-game basis, with the bump sometimes sending Oshie all the way back against the wall. Oshie will then share a secret handshake with Carlson, one that he's continued to do on his own with Carlson on the shelf.

"It's more organically. Like a few guys, and you pick up a guy here and there and then, you know, a guy comes in and they're like, 'Well, this is kind of what I [do],'" Carlson explained, then laughed, "I think just, it's a whole bunch of B.S. There's no rhyme or reason to anything or anybody's stuff between each other. It's kind of just what happens… you kind of go from there."

The new additions have also acclimated well. Erik Gustafsson had seen the handshakes on social media coming into the season, and in his first game found himself nervous as he took the ice with his new team. However, those wacky handshakes have helped him feel comfortable and took some of the pressure off. And though he has handshakes of his own, 

"Standing there is a lot of fun… it just makes you calm down a little bit and it's fun, you know?" Gustafsson said. "They got a lot of energy those guys, it's just fun to see everyone's [thing]."

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He added that his favorite routine of late is the one that incorporates fellow first-year Capital Sonny Milano. He recently joined the handshake line and saw Ovechkin incorporate the D.C. restaurant "Cafe Milano" into the pregame formation. Ovechkin will greet him and Martin Fehervary with the following message if they're together.

"After the game, we all going to Cafe Milano to drink shots of Marrrrrtini (a play on Fehervary's name) and then we gonna eat… Milanese…" Ovechkin will say, followed by the names of various types of pastas, sauces or foods with an "-ase" tagged on the end.

"I think a lot of it is made-up words… just whatever comes to his brain, and he just adds '-ase' to the end of it," Sheary laughed.

Milano still has no idea what the captain is saying, but he's into it.

"I just nod my head and smile. I'm not too sure what he's saying but whatever's working," Milano chuckled.

Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd, Anthony Mantha and more also have handshakes and are part of the routine, and said that it's a great way to get loose and stay loose ahead of puck drop. Carl Hagelin also played a big role in the line before his injury. To close it out, the players usually all put their hands together and then make their way out onto the ice.

"It's team camaraderie that brings guys together," Hathaway said. "Some guys are serious before they play, they have to be serious in order for them to play their best. Some guys joke, some guys can laugh a lot and then be the meanest guy on the ice. Everyone has their own way to prepare, and I think being able to take a breath, sit back and not force playing well, you know, not force yourself into it but know to play your best, the handshakes are a fun part of it."

There will also be a "We Want You, Baby" chorus thrown in there from time to time (a play on Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You") when a player returns to his former playing grounds or is picked up by D..C, and if a player returns from injury or illness, he's greeted with "Guess Whos Back" by Eminem.

And, of course, there are the cup checks, where Ovechkin and Carlson will make sure that their cups are working as intended before taking the ice. Ultimately, there are different rituals that happen in different games, depending on different factors and players.

Marcus Johansson, who was traded away in 2017 and spent five years with different teams before returning via trade last season, said that the handshakes have also survived the tests of time.

"I can't believe a lot of guys have the same things going still," Johansson laughed.

As for the goaltenders, Darcy Kuemper stays in the room until warmups start, so he misses the routine, but when Charlie Lindgren starts, he will usually be in front of the group and in his own world while getting his mind ready and dialling in on the rink. So, while he doesn't exactly see what's going on back there, he confirms that he hears it.

"It's hilarious… I'm kind of just locked into the ice, so I just hear everything that's going on behind me," Lindgren laughed. "Like Listening to Ovi, the things that he says, it's just incredible. The antics of some of the guys, you can go around, I'm sure every team is like that, where they got those guys that are just different as well. Everyone's different in their own way, but it's just hilarious."

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In the end, it's all about what works, and it's ultimately a way that just helps players have a bit of fun and shake out their nerves before stepping onto the ice.

"Some of them, you just go with it. Some of them may be a little bit planned," Wilson said. There's really no rhyme or reason, you just try and pick up where you left off with guys that you used to do things with, and then find some new stuff for the new guys."

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