WASHINGTON, D.C. — After his Washington Capitals defeated the visiting Chicago Blackhawks 3-2, winning coach Barry Trotz stepped to the podium to address the press.
“I got the first question,” he said. “Anybody have any fun?”
The query, of course, was rhetorical. The Winter Classic is a blast, so check your cynicism at the Gate 3 entrance, please.
“I think this was the best Winter Classic,” said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who is biased — but still. “If you look at the quality of the game, the speed of the game, the quality of the ice… I think the weather was absolutely perfect. And to win at the buzzer, basically, it makes for great theatre, great drama.”
Here are 24 reasons — enough to make a case — that the 2015 Winter Classic was awesome.
1. Troy Brouwer playing hero.
With 12.9 seconds left, the game knotted at two and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in the penalty box for a “horse— call” (his words, lip-read), the Capitals’ Brouwer scored his first outdoor goal, and it came against the team that traded him to Washington in 2011.
Brouwer was instrumental in getting the Capitals to wear “CR” helmet decals in honour of Clint Reif, and his father, who is recovering from a stroke, was one of 42,832 in attendance.
“Knowing how my dad is right now,” Brouwer said. “He’s probably got a couple tears.”
2. Billy Idol is still punk rock.
Even at the ripe old age of 59, Billy Idol doesn’t give an eff. Tapped to perform a mini set before puck drop, some media folks got to see Idol perform three times in less than 24 hours: at Wednesday’s soundcheck, at the NHL New Year’s Eve Bash (where he rang in 2015 with “Mony Mony,” and again on Thursday. That’s a lot of Billy.
After soundcheck I saw Idol posing for photos in the bowels of Nationals Park before underneath a “No Idling” sign.
That would’ve been the best Idol moment had the rock star not made this announcement at the NHL gala near midnight: “Looking forward to tomorrow’s final! Or whatever it is.”
3. Eric Fehr’s outdoor magic.
The Washington winger opened the scoring on a beautiful deke of Corey Crawford as the sun shone on the Blackhawks’ crease. Fehr became the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring leader in outdoor games with three, and he has also scored in three-straight games for the first time since March 2010.
4. This guy, rocking a GRISWOLD jersey.
5. Matt Niskanen adjusting to an on-the-fly new rule.
When the sides agreed to switch ends halfway through the first period to share the sun’s glare, it was decided that a horn would sound at the 10-minute mark, halting play like at the conclusion of a period. With seconds winding down to 10:00, Caps defenceman Matt Niskanen pinched when he otherwise would not have, created a wonderful scoring chance and Washington nearly slipped in a buzzer-beater. Smart play.
6. Karl Alzner wearing Oakleys in Period 1.
7. Alex Ovechkin’s enthusiasm.
It happened when Fehr scored, when Ovie himself scored (No. 18 on the season), and when — after getting his stick slashed out of his hands — Brouwer scored the winner: Ovechkin leaping into his teammates’ arms.
Ovie was a punch bowl of Red Bull filled with Superballs for ice cubes Thursday. If he wasn’t throwing hits, creating scoring opportunities or encouraging his teammates, he was juggling the puck on his stick between whistles.
“The bigger the stage, the bigger Alex is,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Alex is a rock star.
“Alex has this ability as the great stars do that you want to keep your eyes on him.”
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8. Braden Holtby’s old-school brown leather pads.
9. The mini Capitol Building and reflecting pond.
Sure the snow was fake (cotton baton, but the re-creation of the national attraction made for an incredible setup. The players entered the rink through a frozen miniature Reflecting Pool, and kids scrimmaged on the pond pre-game.
10. Brandon Saad getting rewarded on the big stage.
The 22-year-old speedster is on pace for a career season, and he was the “toe” is a beautiful tic-tac-toe play — Marian Hossa to Toews to Saad — caused by a John Carlson giveaway.
“It’s a special moment,” Saad said. “It’s my first one outside.”
11. Toews becoming the all-time leader.
By assisting on Saad’s goal, Toews became the all-time leader in outdoor points with five (two goals, three assists).
12. Learning about Trotz’s relationship with his youngest son.
The Capitals coach brought his 13-year-old son, Nolan, on stage with him to the pre-game press conference. And through the Epix documentary, we’ve gotten a glimpse of their special relationship.
13. The silent Clint Reif tributes.
Both teams wore “CR” helmet decals and the Blackhawks kept a stall in memorial of the assistant equipment manager who died unexpectedly mere days before the Classic.
14. Don Cherry sharing an elevator with Pat Sajak.
15. The ridiculous food.
Not only did Jeff Halpern (Jeff Heartburn?) deliver a chicken bacon donut sandwich for tailgaters, but in-stadium fans feasted on the District Duel.
It’s a foot-long smokie topped with roasted Italian beef, creole mustard, banana peppers and giardiniera.
16. The free stuff.
During an early, family-friendly tailgate (9 a.m. hair of the New Year’s Eve dog, anyone?), fans were treated to free McDonald’s fries and coffee, free games and free Metro passes to get home safe.
Oh, and Oscar Mayer was letting fans pose with a giant wiener vehicle.
17. The F-16 buzz-by.
The D.C. Air National Guard’s 113th Wing flew two F-16 fighter jets over the park in salute of the U.S Armed Forces. They were loud.
“All the colours in the stands, the fireworks show, the planes going over, it was really cool,” Matt Niskanen said. “It sounds cheesy, but you feel like a kid again.”
18. Happy fans throwing their complimentary seat cushions when Brouwer scored the winner…
and watching them rain down all over the field.
19. Fist bumps for kids.
After Wednesday’s practice, a few lucky kids got to high-five stars like Brad Richards, Jonathan Toews and fist-bump coach Quenneville.
20. Thirsty Capitals alumni arguing that Peter Bondra should be in the Hall of Fame.
With a pile of empty Canadian tall cans in the centre of the table, Bondra sat humbly as a small cluster of Caps alumni argued boisterously that “Bonzai should be in the Hall!”
Bondra, a two-time 50-goal scorer, also sat and signed autographs (free) for an hour before the game.
21. The sunshine.
Sure, the cloudless sky caused some first-period glare, but the 6.3 C temperature at puck drop (average Winter Classic temperature: 1.5 C) made it perfect for hanging outside for three periods.
22. That time the Blackhawks performed the Flying V.
23. Simple graffiti.
24. The skate guard guy.
As every player trots from the dugout to the rink, there is a guy whose sole job is to slip off the skate covers of each player. That way the player doesn’t have to bend down.
These are the unsung heroes, the ball boys of the Winter Classic.