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Capitals preview what NHL Winter Classic will be like

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- Clad in the Washington Capitals' vintage deep red jerseys for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby emerged from the visitors dugout at Nationals Park.

A sun-splashed, temperate day in southeast Washington provided the players with a picturesque preview of what awaits them Jan. 1, 2015, against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Banners outlined where the rink would be constructed; new uniforms were unveiled; and tens of thousands of navy blue seats awaited cheering fans.

One hundred days from puck drop felt like an eternity.

"That'll be a special feeling," Backstrom said, imagining that not-too-distant day. "As far as I know there hasn't been any event like this for hockey in Washington. We're all excited having it at home here and I'm sure the fans will be really excited, same as us players.

"If you look at it now, it's going to be awesome. That's all I can say."

It was one year ago the Capitals announced they would serve as the host for the League's marquee outdoor event. It was the product of a tireless effort by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis that began from his living room on Jan. 1, 2008, when he said he sent an email to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman while watching the inaugural NHL Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.

"There's two things you know about Ted," Bettman said Tuesday. "He's passionate and he's persistent."

Standing along the infield warning track, the Capitals recalled the grandeur of their participation in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

They spoke of the pyrotechnics that engulfed them as they walked toward the ice and the fireworks that burst overhead.

And, of course, the most distinct memory.

“That we won,” Backstrom said.

Now they will have the opportunity to host the game, creating an experience they can share with their hometown fans.

"It was unbelievable," Ovechkin said, complementing his new jersey with a pair of Nationals pants given to him in the clubhouse. “It’s a situation where you start understanding you really want to be in that position right now.

"For Ted and for the whole organization, and for us as well, we're waiting for this for years and we finally get it. I'm pretty sure he's happy and [we're] happy too."

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