Nats reliever and Minnesota native Brad Hand grew up a fan of Alex Ovechkin

Minnesota native Brad Hand grew up an Alex Ovechkin fan originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When Brad Hand signed with the Nationals over the offseason, he wasn’t thinking about their neighboring NHL team. Hand was thinking about the opportunity to close games for a club with World Series aspirations, a notion enticing enough to convince him to agree to a one-year deal.

However, there was one residual benefit to the contract. Hand now had the chance to play in the same city as Alex Ovechkin, his favorite athlete growing up as a youth hockey player in Chaska, Minnesota. The new Nationals reliever joined NBC Sports Washington’s Capitals Pregame Live crew ahead of Tuesday night’s game against the New York Rangers and talked about why he was drawn to the Great 8.

“I loved him in high school,” Hand said. “Just the way he plays, he’s always in on all the action and then obviously one of the best players in the game for a long time. I wore No. 8 all the way through high school and growing up in Minnesota, if you didn’t play hockey you were kinda the outcast. So I always loved playing hockey and I rep No. 8 on the ice.”

As talented a hockey player he was, Hand was even better on the baseball field. He had to take time away from the ice in order to travel for baseball showcases and improve his craft enough to get noticed. He played hockey through his senior year until the then-Florida Marlins selected him in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft.

“I played all the way growing up,” Hand said. “My parents were from Iowa so they knew nothing about hockey. So I was kinda on my own and just had to figure it out. My dad doesn’t really know how to skate so I just went out with my buddies in the backyard on the pond and skated around and played as a kid. I played all the way through high school, all the way through my senior year. Up there in Minnesota, it’s the big sport so it was fun growing up there and playing hockey for sure.”

The Nationals and Capitals have built a bond between their two teams over the years. Each team supported the other when they won their respective championships — Nationals in 2019, Capitals in 2018. Ovechkin and Co. brought the Stanley Cup to Nationals Park and the Nats returned the favor by taking the Commissioner’s Trophy to Capital One Arena.

Hand appreciates the intersection between baseball and hockey that’s developed in the District. And once Covid protocols allow, he’s hoping to cheer them on in person.

“When you get the support from the other sporting teams that are in your city it’s fun,” Hand said. “You’re always pulling for each other, always watching them. In the wintertime, if you get to know some of the guys on the hockey team you can watch them and root for them. So just makes it fun as guys that love sports and watch it year-round, it’s definitely exciting. Maybe I’ll be able to get to a game soon.”

Tune in Tuesday night to see the Capitals take on the Rangers on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET.

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