- Associated Press - Monday, January 10, 2011

ARLINGTON, Va. | The spread was nice at the Washington Capitals‘ annual media day luncheon. Flavorful meat. Fresh veggies. Players, coaches and reporters lounged around various tables, enjoying the food and chatting about hockey.

Over by the window, away from everyone else, sitting a chair at a table with nothing but a drink and nice view, was defenseman Tom Poti.

“They asked me if I wanted something,” Poti said. “I said don’t even worry about it. We’re only here for 40 minutes and I can just go home and eat.”

It was a rare moment in which Poti’s many allergies made him stand out, which is quite remarkable — because he has a lot of them. No nuts. No chocolate. No fish. Nothing from the ocean. No MSG. Most spices and sauces are verboten. Everything he eats has to be cooked in separate, clean utensils. It’s been this way since he began eating solid food as a toddler, when he would break out in hives, rashes and have other problems at nearly every feeding.

“They finally ended up taking me to an allergist. I almost died from the testing it was so bad,” Poti said. “Nowadays they test for just one thing at a time, back then they’d test for everything (at once). I had to get filled up with adrenaline, things like that.

“They finally figured out what I could have and I couldn’t have, and I’ve just been doing that every since.”

The 33-year-old Massachusetts native is now a veteran professional athlete, with 12 seasons in the NHL and an Olympic silver medal as a member of the U.S. hockey team at Salt Lake City in 2002. He’s proof that even the most sensitive of constitutions can be productive at the most demanding of occupations.

“I don’t think it’s real easy for him, but it’s something that he’s adjusted to,” teammate Brooks Laich said. “Especially with the amount of travel — you’re on airplanes, you’re in hotels. Kudos to Tom for just adjusting and being strong himself with it.”

When the team flies to road games, the charter company has a list of all of Poti’s allergens. When the players goes out to eat at a restaurant in another city, Poti will speak to the chef personally “and make sure he can take care of me … that’s the safest way to do it.”

“I eat a lot of the same stuff most guys do,” Poti said. “I can have chicken, steak, hamburgers, turkey — it just has to be plain. I don’t cook with any oils or any spices. If I eat chicken, it’s just plain grilled chicken. If I eat steak, it’s just plain steak. Hamburger, I don’t put any mustard, relish or ketchup or stuff on it — just plain.”

Poti, his family and his teammates — he’s been in Washington since 2007 — are so used to his routine that it has become second-nature.

General manager George McPhee says Poti’s allergies have never been an issue, and that the few minor things the staff does on Poti’s behalf are hardly an imposition. It’s been eight years since Poti’s last major scare, when he grabbed a bottle of his sister’s lotion in the bathroom because his face and neck were dry. He didn’t look at the ingredients, so he didn’t realize it contained some type of nut oil.

“I started breaking out in hives and got rushed to the hospital,” he said.

Poti carries an EpiPen everywhere he goes. At home, his wife does most of the cooking and has become good at being creative.

“There’s certain things I’ve found that I can have. I use a lot of Italian dressing on things to spice stuff up for me,” Poti said. “And I found a pasta sauce that agrees with me.”

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