Looking extremely uncomfortable, donning his “college suit”, the 6’4” Sanford entered today’s Capitals’ sponsored media luncheon nervously, like a teenager on his first date. His eyes darted around the room as he watched his veteran team members for cues as to what he was supposed to do next.
Sanford, the Capitals 21 year old rookie, is tall and lanky with an easy manner and a shy smile. He is General Manager Brian MacLellan’s newest treasure, brought on to add depth to the third line forwards.
After impressive play over the pre-season, Coach Barry Trotz called Sanford into his office to deliver the news that Sanford made the Capitals team and would be starting on the third line in Thursday night’s game against the Penguins. “I tried to play it cool,” he told CSN reporters Sebastian Salazar and Tarik El-Bashir. “I started smiling a little bit. I was definitely way more excited on the inside”. Sanford couldn’t wait to tell his parents, “I think they thought I was kidding,” he said with an impish grin.
I met with Sanford during the Capitals annual media luncheon held on Tuesday, where Sanford told me about his whirlwind experience. It was not his intent to sign with the Capitals this year. He was focused on his studies and completing his Communications degree at Boston College was his top priority. With the offer on the table, he reviewed his options with his parents, agent, and coaches. There was one lingering problem, Sanford takes his education seriously and he wanted to complete his degree, but wasn’t sure how that would be possible with the grueling schedule of an NHL player. He discussed his dilemma with his academic advisor who assured him that he could complete his studies during the off-season. “It was huge for me to be able to go back to school and get my degree,” he said, and with that assurance, the deal was done – Sanford signed the three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals.
While Sanford is ecstatic with his new career, he loves sharing his success with his friends and family who have supported him over the years. “They think it’s awesome! They’ve been along for the ride with me and it’s great to be able to share with my friends and family.” Their excitement for him is overflowing with their congratulatory well wishes and promises to visit and catch a game while in the area.
With a meteoric rise from a rising junior at Boston College to the Capitals’ newest third line, wing Sanford admits that the transition, while quick, has been relatively easy. “In the past it’s been kinda hard coming onto new teams but all the guys here are great guys and it’s also one of the closest and nicest teams that I’ve been a part of,” he said. Sanford is enjoying his time with the team and so far has experienced only good-natured teasing, like today when third line center Lars Eller playfully teased Sanford about replacing his college suit from Macy’s with a new one now that he’s made the NHL.
For the upcoming season, Sanford hopes to learn more from his teammates – particularly his fellow third line forwards – Marcus Johansson and Lars Eller. “They’re both great players” he said. Sanford’s pairing with these veterans is perfect for helping him to learn the ropes in the NHL. “I think I bring a little bit of size to that line. They’ve got the speed and the skill and the creativity and I keep up with them, play big and create some more space for them and that’s a big part for me,” he said.
By Stephanie Judge