WASHINGTON (AP) — A Stanley Cup championship banner rose to the rafters at the home of the Washington Capitals for the first time, and everyone in attendance Wednesday night got to relive the sheer excitement of it all.
Alex Ovechkin and the other players, who craned their necks to see the video montages of last season on the overhead scoreboard — and couldn’t help but smile. Coaches, too, including new head man Todd Reirden. Not to mention the owner and the GM and the assistant equipment manager and anyone else on staff.
And, importantly, the 18,506 fans, decked out in their jerseys — most of them in the team’s main color, red, so many with Ovechkin’s No. 8. They sang along to “We Are the Champions!” in full throat and shook their team-distributed glow sticks during a half-hour ceremony before Washington opened the regular season by beating the Boston Bruins 7-0 behind a pair of goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and one apiece from Ovechkin, Oshie, Nic Dowd, John Carlson and Lars Eller.
“Gave me chills. I was just looking up and I was hearing the crowd sing that song,” center Nicklas Backstrom said, then added with a laugh: “I want to experience that again.”
Those fans roared at any mention of “champions.” Or any clip of Ovechkin. Or, especially, when there were glimpses of “The Save” by Braden Holtby in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, and Eller’s Cup-winning goal in Game 5, and Ovechkin kissing the trophy for the first time back on June 7. One thing missing from the festivities: any mention or image of Barry Trotz, the coach who led the team to the trophy then left in a contract dispute, replaced by promoted assistant Reirden.
Each burst of cheers sounded as if the games from months ago were being played all over again.
“When you’re part of something like that,” said Oshie, who scored 24 seconds into the game, “how can you not be excited to get going and try to do it again?”
The banner signifying the NHL championship was revealed toward the end of the festivities, slowly lifted to the ceiling, its rise paused long enough for the players to gather on the ice in front of it for photos, the Stanley Cup itself resting nearby on the ice.
There already were five red banners hanging from the rafters to signify some sort of accomplishment by the Capitals: Three represent a total of 11 division titles, one marks the team’s pair of Eastern Conference titles, and the last celebrates a trio of Presidents’ Trophy triumphs.
None, of course, is quite as significant as the piece of material hoisted on this night.
“Kind of a historic moment for us. I’ve always said it’s nice to be a part of it; it’s nice to be in this organization,” Ovechkin said after the game. “Tonight, we had so many emotions, so much fun out there, and you can see how we played.”
Drafted No. 1 overall in 2004, Ovechkin has scored more than 600 goals and won three league MVP awards as one of hockey’s most prominent (gap-toothed) faces. He also became Washington’s captain along the way and, therefore, the first player in franchise history to get to grab the Stanley Cup.
He carried it again Wednesday, bringing it onto the ice and taking a half-lap around the rink — serenaded by “Ovi! Ovi!” — as the last player introduced. The Capitals won their title on the road at Las Vegas, so this was chance for the Cup to be shown off at home.
That famous silver chalice, etched for the first time with the Capitals’ names, made a trek around the nation’s capital throughout Wednesday. Not only did the Capitals put an end to their own futility, they also earned the first championship for any of the city’s teams in the four North American major professional sports leagues since the NFL’s Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992.
“They made it OK to believe,” said ceremony emcee John Walton, the Capitals’ radio voice.
“Let’s go, Caps!” rang out in the stands as the banner’s rise concluded.
That chant shifted to “Back-to-back!” when the ceremony ended with Ovechkin skating the Cup off the ice. After giving it a parting kiss, he placed it in its black carrying case, the celebration over, the title defense soon off to quite a start.
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