Photos: Lisa Desabrais
We all have our Caps’ player, or players, that are our favorites and the reasoning behind it changes from person to person. For me it’s T.J. Oshie, because of his endless energy he displays on the ice every night, and Braden Holtby, who defends the team in goal with a poised and zen-like demeanor, and former Capital Daniel Winnik.
From the time he first joined the team I felt as though Winnik was a perfect fit. I always enjoyed watching the “Find It and Grind It”( my name for them) line of Winnik, Beagle, and Wilson together on the ice. What also endeared him to me was the fact that he, his wife Taylor, and their family of bullies (bulldogs) instantly embraced the Caps’ family and interacted with all of us on a personal level.
During a home game at the end of this past March I went looking for a Winnik t-shirt. Much to my amazement, I learned from Taylor that they are never in one spot long enough for teams to consider producing his jersey, and t-shirts can only be found in men’s sizes. I called bull hockey on that and did what any loyal fan would do – I had a custom one made at the game. Almost as if good karma was in place, Winnik went on to score twice, and almost a third time that night. Feeling as though it was a sign my fourth jersey was meant to be, I tweeted out with excitement.
Someone commented it would be great to be able to get it signed and so began the journey to do so.
I wrote before that a sport is what brings you to support a team, yet the interaction with players and their families is what nurtures your love of the team.
Although Taylor was herself heading out of the country, she arranged for Dan to come out after practice at Kettler to sign my jersey. Through no fault of anyone, the initial reason for my visit didn’t pan out, but I enjoyed my visit to the rink and was fortunate enough to get my number twenty six jersey signed by Orlov, Backstrom, and Beagle, who considered it an honor to be signing one from a linemate.
Fast forward to a new season in which the team looks so much different. Part of that change was that Winnik was no longer on it. Daniel would eventually sign with the Minnesota Wild.
Since the Wild were slated to play our boys on the 18th of November, I tweeted out to the Caps and the Wild, and Winnik in hopes of getting my jersey signed. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured I would try. I also made it a point to venture into “enemy territory” (with a sign of course) during warmups to welcome Dan back to D.C. Wild fans even jokingly asked me if I was lost since I was clearly on the wrong side of the ice. I have to admit, watching another team during warmups had the feeling of being unfaithful to your spouse and I received more than a few confused looks from the players on the ice.
I did the typical banging on the glass to get his attention and maybe a puck but I certainly couldn’t compete with the younger generation of adorable hockey fans vying for the same thing and rightfully so. It was great seeing him playing hockey again, even though he wasn’t wearing red.
One would think nothing came of my reaching out a second time in hopes of getting my jersey signed. A week prior to the game Taylor privately contacted me and personally provided me with her home address. My jersey was on its way to Minnesota to be signed by both her and Dan while he was making his way to D.C.
We follow teams and individual players because of play on the ice, yet I think their graciousness off the ice is something that never gets talked about enough. I mentioned last April that the team will look different this year, and it certainly does. One thing that should never change is celebrating the successes of those that have moved on. We rooted for them while they were on “our” team, why would that ever need to change? Winnie was never touted as a superstar of the Capitals but sometimes it takes them missing from the lineup to truly appreciate the many ways they contributed to its success.
To the Minnesota Wild fans, embrace Dan, his glorious facial hair, Taylor, and the meats but always remember what I told you before our game; “They were ours first.”
By Lisa Desabrais