Cap­i­tals sing Navy’s praises, and NHL may hold more games at ser­vice acad­e­mies

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By IS­ABELLE KHUR­SHUDYAN Wash­ing­ton Post Colum­nist

(WPNS) — When the week started, T.J. Oshie was un­sure of all the de­tails. The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals for­ward knew the gist of the story — that both of his grand­fa­thers served to­gether in the Navy, and then their kids (Oshie’s par­ents) went on to meet in Seat­tle, com­pletely in­de­pen- dent of that con­nec­tion. That happy co­in­ci­dence of fam­ily his­tory made Oshie feel a spe­cial con­nec­tion to his first out­door game, Sat­ur­day’s 5-2 Cap­i­tals win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL Sta­dium Se­ries at Navy-Marine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in An­napo­lis, Mary­land.

By the end of the week, Oshie had pho­tos of the USS Saint Paul in his locker room stall at the Naval Academy. That ship was where his grand­fa­thers served to­gether, so the Naval In­sti­tute pulled pho­tos from its archives and passed them along to Oshie be­fore the game, a per­sonal touch on a per­sonal week­end for sev­eral of the Cap­i­tals.

“It’s a huge honor,” Oshie said. “I try to say it as much as I can, but you can’t thank the mil­i­tary enough, you can’t ap­pre­ci­ate them enough, for the sac­ri­fices them and their fam­ily make. So for us to come to these fa­cil­i­ties and these sta­di­ums and play these games, you just feel like you’re in a part of his­tory here. And as Amer­i­cans, I’m sure if you’re from a dif­fer­ent coun­try, it prob­a­bly doesn’t quite feel that way, but for us it does feel re­ally spe­cial. It’s great for the NHL, it’s great for hockey, and it’s great for the Amer­i­cans that are able to play in the games.”

Just as the NFL is com­ing off a sea­son that was head­lined by play­ers kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest so­cial in­jus­tice, ac­tions crit­i­cized by Pres­i­dent Trump as be­ing un­pa­tri­otic and an in­sult to the mil­i­tary, the NHL is em­brac­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the armed forces. Sat­ur­day’s game be­tween the Cap­i­tals and Maple Leafs was the first out­door game the NHL has played at a ser­vice academy, but it’s ex­pected to be the be­gin­ning of a se­ries, as the league has also ex­plored play­ing at Army and the Air Force Academy.

“It re­ally is a trib­ute to the men and women in the armed forces and all they do to pro­tect our free­dom on a daily ba­sis, so it was cer­tainly a nod to the mil­i­tary,” NHL deputy com­mis­sioner Bill Daly said last month as prepa­ra­tions for Sat­ur­day’s game got un­der­way. “We are ex­cited about the creative el­e­ments as­so­ci­ated with that. We are look­ing for­ward to the fu­ture events with that, as well.”

With more than 29,000 fans in at­ten­dance for Wash­ing­ton’s win over Toronto, Sat­ur­day’s was a more in­ti­mate set­ting than most out­door games, of­ten played in base­ball parks or larger foot­ball sta­di­ums. Play­ers raved about ev­ery­thing from the pageantry to the ice con­di­tions. Cap­i­tals cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov even said he would like to have that sheet of ice in Wash­ing­ton’s Cap­i­tal One Arena. Windy con­di­tions forced the teams to can­cel prac­tices and morn­ing skates out­doors at Navy, but by the time the game started, Oshie said the gusts weren’t much of a fac­tor.

“When you’re skat­ing around, you’d feel it,” Oshie said. “You’ve got one hand on your stick, and when you get a gust, your stick kind of moves a lit­tle bit. But in a game, you’re just play­ing. Ev­ery­thing is just too fast to think or worry about where the wind’s com­ing or things like that.”

A power surge mid­way through the third pe­riod that caused a 15-minute black­out and prompted NBC af­fil­i­ates to switch to lo­cal news in­stead of the game was the one em­bar­rass­ing hitch to an oth­er­wise im­pres­sive pro­duc­tion. In the arena, fans flipped on their phone flash­lights, hop­ing to il­lu­mi­nate the ice. On the Cap­i­tals bench, some play­ers danced to the mu­sic be­ing pumped through the sta­dium.

“I was think­ing, ‘ Oh, no,’ but the only good thing was it was only [15] min­utes,” Cap­i­tals cen­ter Nick­las Back­strom said. “I thought it was go­ing to be longer, ac­tu­ally. ... I loved ev­ery­thing about the at­mos­phere. Such a cool in­tro, I think. I was just en­joy­ing ev­ery­thing. I feel like maybe we got some en­ergy off that, too.”

Cap­i­tals Coach Barry Trotz said his best mo­ment was one that hap­pened be­fore the game even started. He greeted mid­ship­men when the Cap­i­tals ar­rived at the sta­dium. The team was led to the rink by bag­pipes play­ing the “Top Gun” theme song, and then those same mid­ship­men Trotz met ear­lier lined the plat­form around the rink as the Amer­i­can and Cana­dian na­tional an­thems played. Fire­works and a fly­over com­pleted the ex­pe­ri­ence. If this was a test case, it passed, and it’s un­likely to be the last NHL game with the mil­i­tary as a back­drop.

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