WASHINGTON — Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’ lobbying for a Winter Classic in his NHL team’s home city began with an email sent to Commissioner Gary Bettman the moment the league’s first New Year’s Day game was played in 2008.
"The first emails I see any morning, on any typical day, are from Ted on any of a variety of subjects but he has been both persistent and passionate in pursuit of this event," Bettman said at Nationals Park on Tuesday, when the Capitals unveiled the uniforms they’ll wear when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 1. "We’re thrilled to be fulfilling his wish."
On a sunny, start-of-autumn day with the temperature at about 70, Alex Ovechkin wore flip-flops and a borrowed pair of baseball pants, Nicklas Backstrom donned shorts, and Braden Holtby sported sunglasses while modeling the deep red jerseys with a blue "W," three white stars and the word "Capitals" across the chest.
Hockey nets and boards showing the outline of a rink were set up across the back of the dirt diamond and the shallow outfield grass at the baseball stadium where the NL East champion Nationals play their home games.
"One of the things I did for Commissioner Bettman a few years back (was) I had a rendering done of what the Winter Classic would look like here. So this is pretty cool to see," said Mark Lerner, son of the Nationals’ principal owner and a part-owner of the Capitals, as he looked at the setup. "Every time I saw him, I said, ‘What about it?’ Ted and I were both on a mission since Jan. 1, 2008, that we wanted to have it in D.C."
Leonsis called landing the game "a big moment" for hockey in Washington.
"Our city deserves it, so it feels good to finally know that we’re going to drop the puck New Year’s Day," Leonsis said, "and I’m just hoping for snow."
He was asked how much snow.
"Enough," Leonsis replied. "Just no rain."
Tuesday’s news conference came 100 days before the Winter Classic, which Bettman said "will be sold out, if it’s not already."
"New Year’s Day used to be about college football," Leonsis said, "and now New Year’s Day is about hockey."
The boards set up on the baseball field included logos of the Capitals and the Blackhawks.
With the backdrop of the much-discussed appropriateness of the nickname of Washington’s NFL team, the Redskins, Bettman was asked Tuesday about "Blackhawks."
"I don’t think the two are analogous or comparable. The Blackhawks are accorded great respect, not just by the team that plays in Chicago but by the gentleman that first founded and owned them, naming them after his battalion that fought gallantly in World War I," Bettman said. "I don’t think there’s any comparison between the two names."