For the host team, sometimes a Winter Classic win feels like more than two points, but you can hardly fault them. The hockey world was watching, and the Capitals delivered. Troy Brouwer scored the game-winner for the Washington Capitals against his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, with seconds remaining in regulation. The Capitals won 3-2, and it was as thrilling a finish as you’d expect from an event like the Winter Classic. It was made for the big time.
After Washington’s victory, Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis cautioned, as if to remind himself, “I don’t want to make this more than it is.”
The Winter Classic has been the NHL’s marquee event since 2008, and Leonsis had been gunning for one of his own ever since his Capitals visited the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011.
In the end, the game is still worth two points, but Leonsis hopes it is a signal of future successes for the franchise he’s devoted so much to over the years.
“I mean, I’m hoping that we can continue to be a franchise that can accomplish bigger things that winning the Winter Classic.”
For Leonsis, it wasn’t only about the spectacle, it was about the experience. His deep investment in the event and its execution added an emotional factor to the day.
“I knew that our fans would fill the stands, be a sea of red,” said Leonsis. “I knew that the NHL really has their execution of this event down. And we were good hosts. We spent a lot of time – I personally spent a lot of time – walking around the building. I saw all the care over every detail.”
Leading up to the event, some felt that there wasn’t a lot of buzz or excitement surrounding the Chicago – Washington matchup, since both teams have played in multiple outdoor games, and neither are conference rivals. So while the game was worth as much as any other regular season contest, it didn’t possess the spark that typically accompanies matchups between divisional and conference rivals.
Despite doubts, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t have allowed Washington as the host of the game if he didn’t believe it would succeed.
“The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t have brought the Winter Classic here, despite Ted’s persistence, if we didn’t think it was right,” Bettman told reporters after the game. “It’s Ted’s persistence, not just in pursuing this event, but in making the Caps such an important part of the sports scene in Washington.”
“It’s Ted’s pursuit and persistence — in making the Capitals such an important part of the community – that brought us to the point that we believed that by bringing the Winter Classic to Washington we could have a great event and that’s what we had.”
Leonsis felt the league’s faith in his franchise was rewarded. “It does feel good to have the league believe in us, and I think this was the best Winter Classic.”
“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 theater, great drama.”
Besides his team winning the game, Leonsis cherished a moment he witnessed before the fanfare of the day began.
“I was walking to do an interview this morning, and there was a mother and daughter, and they had their arms around each other, and they just had the biggest smiles on their faces. I just stopped, and I looked at them,” said Leonsis. “One of the ladies blew me a kiss. I mean, those are the kind of moments you want to capture. You want to make lifelong memories.”