Sam’s family’s first trip to our nation’s capital proved to be a memorable one. The first item on the agenda was to see a Capitals game. On March 6 Sam, along with his parents (Amy and Bryan) and younger siblings (Jack and Kate), all headed to Verizon Center in a limousine to watch their first NHL game in person. They hadn’t been told what to expect on their trip to D.C., so the next few days were full of surprises.
Sam and his family were welcomed outside the main entrance by staff members from the Capitals and Make-A-Wish, along with a camera crew from ESPN – as Sam’s experience will air on the network in July as one of their “My Wish” segments. Sam was immediately given an autographed Ovechkin jersey and a Courage Cap so he could Rock the Red while cheering on the Caps. The family was then escorted to the penalty box where they watched the teams warm up from ice level. As Sam walked down the arena steps he mentioned that Verizon Center was much bigger than CenturyLink Arena, the 5,000-seat home of his local East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team in Idaho.
Before team warm-ups began, Sam was introduced to Caps announcer Wes Johnson. Johnson invited Sam, Jack and Kate over to the scorer’s table, showing them his station and explaining what he does during games. He then allowed Sam to help introduce the Capitals as the team took to the ice. Ovechkin knew that he had special guests in the penalty box watching warm-ups, so he flipped Sam a puck–his way of saying “hi” before the game.
When the teams cleared the ice, Sam and his family went to their seats. They were hosted as Ovechkin’s guests of honor and sat in Ovi’s Crazy 8s, a special section in the lower bowl of the arena. Sam and his family received foam eights so they could proudly show their support for Ovechkin while they watched the game.
At the end of the first period, the Caps were up 1-0, and Sam and his family were surprised with a behind-the scenes tour. During the first intermission the family headed to the event level of Verizon Center where they visited the Comcast SportsNet TV truck. After meeting the Comcast SportsNet crew and watching the producer run the show, the group headed upstairs to the press box. There Sam and his family stopped in the television booth where they watched Craig Laughlin and Joe Beninati in action. During a TV timeout they were able to take a group photo together and chat briefly with the broadcasters. Before heading back to the suite, Sam and his family also visited the radio booth and met the organist.
The next two periods didn’t quite go the way Sam had hoped. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Capitals fell behind in the third period. However, Brooks Laich
was able to tie the game with less than three minutes remaining, and the game went into overtime. Sam’s family couldn’t believe the atmosphere in Verizon Center and, even though the Caps weren’t able to win, they were still thrilled to see such an exciting game.
After the game Sam and his family received another surprise, Sam was going to meet Ovechkin. The family headed to a locker room on the event level where they anxiously waited for the Caps captain. Ovechkin did not disappoint, showing up with two bags of Capitals goodies for Sam. After getting acquainted, Ovechkin signed autographs and took pictures with the family then let Sam know that he would see him tomorrow at practice. As Ovechkin revealed another surprise, Sam and his family headed back to the hotel where they didn’t think they’d be able to get much sleep that night.
The next day Sam and his family again left their hotel in a limousine, this time headed to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to watch the Capitals practice. The family was greeted and escorted to a balcony overlooking the rink. There general manager George McPhee met with Sam, his parents and siblings. They all watched practice for a while with McPhee, who answered questions and chatted about the game the night before.
Before practice ended, Sam headed to ice level for his next surprise. He was escorted into the locker room with his family where he saw all of the players’ stalls. A look of disbelief crossed his face as he realized that there was a stall with “Sam” on the nameplate right next to Ovechkin’s. In that stall was a full set of equipment for Sam donated by Bauer, Ovechkin’s equipment company. The Caps equipment staff had set up Sam’s stall and everything was ready to go, including new skates with yellow laces. With the help of the head equipment manager, Sam got suited up and custom fitted and was ready to skate.
As players started leaving the ice, they chatted with their new teammate. Brooks Laich
, Matt Hendricks
and Jason Chimera
all came over to say hello and welcome Sam. Laich didn’t want Sam’s younger brother Jack, who also plays hockey, to feel left out so he invited him to skate as well.
As Sam and Jack took to the ice, Ovechkin, Karl Alzner
and Mike Green
were waiting for them. They did some drills, raced and played two-on-two. Since there wasn’t a goalie on the ice, Ovechkin took it upon himself to get in between the pipes. He got Michal Neuvirth
’s mask, glove and blocker and transformed into a goalie. Sam quickly proved that Ovechkin should stay as a forward as he scored on the Caps captain. While Sam and Jack were playing on the ice, Amy, Jack and Kate chatted with Jay Beagle
on the bench. Meeting the family brought back fond memories for Beagle, who had won the Kelly Cup with the Idaho Steelheads.
Before Sam and his Caps teammates cleared the ice, they all took photos with Sam’s entire family. Then it was time to go back to the locker room and face the media. The cameras huddled around Ovechkin at first, but he deferred them to his new teammate Sam. Ovechkin explained that Sam was the star of the day and that the media should direct their questions to him. Sam proceeded to answer questions alongside the Caps captain, getting a taste of what goes into being a professional athlete. After a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitals locker room, it was time to eat. The Front Page Arlington donated lunch and Sam and his family enjoyed lunch with Ovechkin and Alzner, where they got to know the players better and spend more time with them.
The next day Sam and his family were back at Verizon Center for another Caps game. Their limousine was met by Caps staff who had more surprises for the family. As they entered the arena, Sam, Jack and Kate were taken down to the event floor and Amy and Bryan headed to their seats. By day three it was pretty clear that Kate didn’t like surprises – she wanted to know exactly what was going to happen and hated having to wait to find out what was going on. The excitement built up for Sam and his siblings as they waited outside the Caps locker room. Finally they were let in on the secret; they were going through the locker room to watch the Capitals warm up from the team bench. Sam and his siblings had the best seat in the house and cheered on the Caps as they got ready to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After warm-up, Sam, Jack and Kate headed to their seats. For tonight’s game Ted Leonsis had personally donated his tickets to the family, and they got to watch the game from the front row on the glass. Sam was told that he had another surprise and he needed to be ready with five minutes left in the first period.
The game was scoreless when Sam and his family were picked up from their seats. They headed back down to the event level, not sure what to expect. As the group approached the ice resurfacers, Sam learned that he was going to get to ride the Olympia during the first intermission. As the group waited for the period to end, the Caps scored and Sam’s family celebrated. While on the ice, Sam was formally welcomed and introduced to the crowd and he even appeared on the video board. A smiling Sam waved to the crowd as he helped resurface the ice. On the way back to their seats, Sam and his family learned that they were going to visit the owner’s box during the next intermission.
Sam and his family were greeted in the owner’s box by Monumental Sports & Entertainment chief operating officer and Capitals president Dick Patrick. Patrick chatted with the family about how they had been spending their time in D.C. and the game. The Caps were now behind 2-1 after Tampa Bay scored two unanswered goals in the second period. Capitals owners Jack Davies and Michelle Freeman also came over to talk to Sam and his family, and the group took several photos together as the intermission came to a close. Sam and his family headed back to their seats and were told there would be one last surprise after the game.
The Capitals fought back in the third period, tying the score at 2-2 and sending the game into overtime. Sam and his family have only been to two NHL games – and both went to overtime! Sam and his family watched intently as overtime started and they hoped for a better ending than the last game. Ovechkin and the Capitals did not disappoint as the captain netted the game winner soon after overtime began. Sam celebrated as his hockey role model showed why he’s one of the best players in the NHL.
After the game Sam and his family were surprised to find themselves in the locker room. Chimera greeted the family first, signing a stick for Sam and chatting with the group. Then Alzner and McPhee stopped by to say hello. Finally, Ovechkin entered. He gave Sam the stick he had scored the game-winning goal with, autographing it for him. After taking more photos with Sam, Ovechkin said goodbye to Sam and his family, thanked them for coming and let Sam know that the overtime goal was for him.
Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Founded in 1980 when a group of caring volunteers helped a young boy fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer, Make-A-Wish is now the largest wish-granting charity in the world.
For more information about Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, including how you can help refer a local child from Maryland, Northern Virginia, Delaware or the District of Columbia for a wish as well as sponsor a wish or donate in-kind gifts of goods, services or airline frequent flier miles, please call (301) 962-9474 or visit www.midatlantic.wish.org