Cal Ripken Jr. knows a little bit about playing through the grind of a professional sports career.
After all, he owns the iron man streak in baseball.
Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games, a record that many believe will never be broken. He was on hand for Thursday's Capitals game when the team paid tribute to Alex Ovechkin's 1,000th career game.
That may be less than half of Ripken's record and it wasn't even in consecutive games, but the baseball great still could not help but be impressed by Ovechkin's durability.
"I can relate a little bit," Ripken said. "I wish I could relate fully. The physical nature of hockey and I would say basketball, too—just the pounding that your body takes—you've got to be a physical specimen to kind of withstand all that."
On Monday in St. Louis, Caps fans' hearts stopped when Ovechkin crashed awkwardly into the boards and was slow to get up.
This close to the playoffs, had he taken the rest of the night off, no one would have blamed him. Had Barry Trotz opted to scratch him for Thursday's game, it would have been understandable. And yet, Ovechkin was still in the lineup, playing in his normal spot at left wing on the top line.
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"I think going out and being able to perform and play every single day is really a mental challenge, as well," Ripken said. "I've had a chance to get to know Ovi a little bit. We had a function together and I was with him a few other times, and he strikes me as someone that really enjoys the game and really is strong mentally. Obviously he's got the physique to go out there and play. But the challenge sometimes is more between the ears than it is physically."
Ovechkin's noted love of the game has helped him overcome that challenge throughout his career, 1,002 times and counting.
"It's fun to watch him," Ripken said. "You don't want to take your eye off him and miss an opportunity for something good [that] might happen."