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Features

USA Warriors honored at Winter Classic practice

Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

WASHINGTON -- When the horn sounded at the conclusion of practice at Nationals Park on Wednesday, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson raised his arms as though he was celebrating a goal, then wrapped one of them around one of the wounded soldiers who was given a chance to participate.

The USA Warriors were honored throughout the day by the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, one day before the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA). The wounded military personnel had their picture taken with the Capitals and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, then skated with the Blackhawks later in the afternoon.

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Raanta: Lucky to share this with Blackhawks family

Antti Raanta - Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta is preparing for his first Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He's expected to back up starter Corey Crawford on Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park, as he did on March 1 in Chicago's Coors Light 2014 NHL Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Raanta agreed to offer his opinions in blog form leading up to the main event.

WASHINGTON -- I've been thinking a lot about how we got here of late. It's been a whirlwind.

We came in last night and that's when you start feeling the excitement that the Winter Classic is close. Everybody was more and more excited about that. This morning when we woke up we knew it would be a special day.

We came to the rink a couple hours early, long before practice, just so we could get out there, see the ice, and really just soak it in. It's a phenomenal stadium and it was a great feeling to be out there. You got that feeling of excitement that you're going to be out on that ice soon.

So we came back in the locker room and we were getting ready for practice, but there was a significant buzz. It was really fun.

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Blackhawks, Capitals enter Classic at top of games

Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

WASHINGTON -- Two of the hottest teams in the NHL will play out in the cold Thursday.

The Chicago Blackhawks, who are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games to seize possession of first place in the Central Division, are set to face the Washington Capitals in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Washington is 6-1-3 in its past 10 games and has moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division. This will be the Capitals' second Winter Classic (they played the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in 2011).

"The message is, enjoy this experience," Washington coach Barry Trotz said after the Capitals practiced on the outdoor rink Wednesday. "Let's face it, this is pretty unique. It's something that you don't always get to do. You want to share it with your family. One of the things that I've tried to do with our group is just make sure [to] be pros about it."

The Capitals (18-11-7) have managed to find ways to collect points despite playing six of their past seven games on the road. They had a few hours to relax and were able to skate with their families after practice Wednesday, but captain Alex Ovechkin expects a return to the businesslike mentality when everyone arrives at the stadium on New Year's Day.

"It's going to be a fun time," said Ovechkin, who leads Washington with 17 goals in 36 games. "I'm pretty sure everybody is going to be excited, especially when it's going to be loud and the fans are going to be out there. Right now, it's all about fun … families, kids, wives, girlfriends, so it's always good.

"Tomorrow's going to be a new year and it's going to be a new day. It's going to be a huge two points for us. Mentally, it's going to be a very important game for us because we're going to play one of the best teams in the League. It's going to be a huge game for us. "

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2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic by the numbers

NHL Public Relations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A look at the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic "By the Numbers."

2 - Each team is making its second appearance in the NHL Winter Classic; The Chicago Blackhawks were defeated 6-4 by Detroit in 2009 at Wrigley Field. Washington bested Pittsburgh by a 3-1 margin at Heinz Field in 2011.

2 - Beginning Jan. 1, fans can nominate their community to be one of the two communities (one in Canada, one in the U.S.) that will win the title of Kraft Hockeyville in 2015. The title will earn each community an arena makeover and the honor of hosting an NHL pre-season game in 2015.

5 - Of the six most-watched NHL regular-season games in the U.S. since 1975, five are NHL Winter Classic games.

10 - Most number of goals teams have combined to score in a single NHL Winter Classic, four of which were scored by the Blackhawks in their 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2009 NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

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Canucks' Hansen fined for illegal check to the head

Wednesday, 12.31.2014 / 4:06 PM / Department of Player Safety News

NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Vancouver Canucks forward Jannik Hansen has been fined $5,000, the maximum allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for an illegal check to the head of San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels during NHL Game No. 544 in San Jose on Tuesday, Dec. 30, the National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety announced today.

The incident occurred at 0:59 of the second period. Hansen was assessed a minor penalty for illegal check to the head.

The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

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Capitals look to buck home-team trend at Classic

Adam Vingan - NHL.com Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- A thought crossed Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green’s mind as he prepared for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks, so he sought an answer.

“I was curious how many home teams won,” he said after the Capitals practiced at Nationals Park on Wednesday.

The visitors have won five of the previous six NHL Winter Classics, including three straight. The Capitals are among them, having defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in 2011.

A poll of Washington’s locker room produced varied responses, though the most prevalent was the presence of family and friends, making sure everyone and everything are taken care of.

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Beagle: Capitals get used to elements during practice

Jay Beagle - Washington Capitals

Capitals forward Jay Beagle is about to play in his second Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Beagle suited up for Washington at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in 2011, and is expected to be in the lineup Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park.

Beagle agreed to offer up his opinions in blog form leading up to the main event.

WASHINGTON -- We had a good day of practice at the stadium today. It was great to take in the atmosphere and get an idea of what everything will look like when we play the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow afternoon. At the same time, it's important to kind of embrace this experience and enjoy it.

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Celebrity chef Goldman has recipes for Classic feast

Shawn Roarke - Director, Editorial

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Celebrity chef Duff Goldman knows a bit about hockey.

He played the sport through college, including on the club team during his time at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He still plays when he can and remains a huge fan of the game.

Still, he was surprised by what greeted him upon his arrival at Nationals Park on Tuesday to check out the preparations for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

The ice surface was finished and many of the trimmings were already in place. As a result, Goldman could envision what will greet fans, including himself, on Thursday when the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals take part in the latest NHL outdoor game (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA).

"Everything looks so great," said Goldman, the owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and the star of "Ace of Cakes" and other shows on Food Network, including a new show, "Duff Till Dawn," which will soon debut. "The setup is amazing and you can see how spectacular it is going to be when this place is filled."

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Capitals' Ovechkin focused solely on team success

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Alex Ovechkin's level of introspection grew with each answer he gave during a nine-minute impromptu press conference in the Washington Capitals dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday.

The questions started out broad, almost as a way to gauge Ovechkin's interest in discussing his role in the growth of the Capitals over the past decade and how they've come so far, yet still have so far to go:

Is hosting the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Thursday a signature moment for you as the face of the Washington Capitals?

"It's not about one person who makes it," Ovechkin said. "Every guy who has been here does a certain job and I'm one of them. When you look back where we started and where we are now, it's a great feeling and a great time."

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NHL issues fan reminders for Thursday's 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

NHL.com

WASHINGTON -- The National Hockey League would like to remind fans attending Thursday's 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® (1 p.m., ET, NBC, CBC, TVA) about some traffic, parking and security matters:

* Gates at Nationals Park will open at 11 a.m. We encourage all fans to arrive early as to allow enough time to proceed through security checks.

* NO bags larger than 16” X 16” X 8” will be allowed into the stadium. All bags are subject to search.

* All guests require a ticket for entry regardless of age.

* No third-party Will Call will be accepted.

* Spectator Plaza presented by GEICO, a free fan festival, will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on January 1 at the Fairgrounds (directly outside the Center Field Gate of Nationals Park) with additional activities on Half Street.

* Be sure to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately.

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Quote of the Day

It was a different game in the past, that's for sure. It's not exactly what I was expecting but I think the experience paid off for a lot of our guys that realized what it takes in a Game 7. Realistically the effort we put forward, we might not even had to put 60 [minutes], but we just couldn't get a couple bounces to go our way and we just kept pushing.

— Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby on Washington's play in Game 7 vs. the Islanders