BELLEVILLE, Ont. - Brooks Laich could tell as soon as the Washington Capitals got off their bus Saturday morning how big of a deal this was.
They were arriving at Yardmen Arena to play the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL's pre-season opener as part of the Hockeyville event that takes the game to a small town in Canada.
"There was about 300 kids outside the rink lined up and I was there once," Laich said. "I know how they're feeling, I know how important it is."
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were there for the Capitals, and Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian for the Jets.
"They got some of their names," Kane said. "We've got a couple of our big names."
Star power was prevalent in the game, won by the Capitals 4-3 in a shootout in front of a packed house in Belleville. Green scored the winner.
Kane knew the teams would put on a show for the event celebrating the nearby tiny town of Stirling-Rawdon, Ont., and they did, with the Jets star doing his part by scoring twice.
There was plenty of offence and big saves at both ends to keep fans entertained. But even a 1-0 game would've meant everything in this community.
"I would kill for this as a kid, to be able to see Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green, these guys, this kind of talent right in front of you ??? to get a picture with them, to get an autograph and to watch them play a game," said Laich, who did not play because of a left hip flexor injury.
"I think sometimes as players, too, we forget really how important the NHL is to people and how delicate it is to be in the NHL. It's just a really, really cool experience."
Fans were almost robbed of the chance of seeing Ovechkin play a full game. He took a high stick to the face from Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot in the first period.
Ovechkin was down on the ice for some time before skating to the bench and going down the tunnel. He returned to the game a couple of minutes later.