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Capitals, Make-A-Wish give teen once-in-a-lifetime experience

18-year-old will walk red carpet, be VIP at opener for Stanley Cup champs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hunter Shrauger's wish was to meet Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

The 18-year-old never imagined he'd be on the ice with the Ovechkin and the Capitals after their practice on Tuesday. Or that he'd get to walk the red carpet with Ovechkin before the Capitals raise their first Stanley Cup banner and play their season opener against the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 ET; NBCSN, TVAS).

With the help of Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and the Capitals, Shrauger is living his hockey dream.

"It's just a lot more than I asked for," Shrauger said. "It's crazy that all these people go through all this to make me happy. This means a lot. I'm glad they can do this for other kids too who really need it."

Shrauger, a senior center on Jenison (Michigan) High School's hockey team, has been through his share. When he was 14, he spent a month in the hospital after 20 percent of his body was burned in a go-kart accident.

Last year, shortly before beginning his junior year of high school, he was diagnosed with colitis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the colon, and had to have his colon removed.

"He played hockey last season with a colostomy bag," said Scott Shrauger, Hunter's father. "Now, they've used his lower intestine to make kind of like a drainpipe. So, he's all hooked up and working normally and the colostomy bag is gone now and he's playing hockey again."

When Shrauger returns to school on Friday, he's going to have a bunch of stories to share from his visit to Washington.

"I'm going to talk so much garbage to everyone on the team," he said. "They'll never hear the end of it."

Shrauger arrived at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday expecting to watch the Capitals final practice before their season opener. He received a red Capitals jersey with his name and No. 2, his high school number, on the back.

After Shrauger watched the end of practice from the bench, Capitals coach Todd Reirden invited him onto the ice, introduced him to the team and announced that he'll walk the red carpet with Ovechkin on Wednesday.

"This organization does so many great things with the people who need help and tomorrow is going to be a special day again," Ovechkin said. "He's going to be probably the happiest guy in the whole world walking on the red carpet, watch the game, see the Stanley Cup. It's going to be pretty cool."

Although Shrauger grew up in Detroit Red Wings territory, he said he's always been a Capitals fan and Ovechkin is his favorite player. He watched every game of the Capitals' run to the Stanley Cup, never thinking he'd be in Washington for the banner raising.

"No way would I ever imagine that," he said. "That's crazy."

Shrauger knew he'd have a chance to skate after practice Tuesday, but didn't expect do it with the Capitals. Unfortunately, he left the bag with his skates in it at his hotel, so he had to borrow a pair.

He also had to borrow a stick, one belonging to former Capitals forward Jay Beagle, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks in the summer.

Shrauger spent some time on the ice talking with Capitals right wing Tom Wilson and working on his one-timer with center Lars Eller. He also took a breakaway against goaltender Pheonix Copley.

"Today, it wasn't just a picture [with the team] in the [locker] room," Eller said. "He actually got to go on the ice with us and then tomorrow he's right in the spotlight. All eyes are going to be on him and Ovi, so he'll get that rock star feeling."

Shrauger is normally shy, so his parents enjoyed watching him be so at ease on the ice with the Capitals.

"He's an amazing kid and he's overcome so much," said his mother, Laura Conrad. "Just seeing him be comfortable, it makes me feel like in life he's going to be OK."

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