ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Joe Snively was growing up in Herndon, Virginia, he participated in youth hockey clinics similar to the one he helped host at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday.
Back then, Snively was an aspiring youth player in the Washington Little Caps program. Now he's a Washington Capitals prospect attending their development camp this week.
The 23-year-old forward signed a two-year entry-level contract as an undrafted free agent on March 18 after completing his senior college season at Yale. Snively got his feet wet in professional hockey, getting seven points (two goals, five assists) in nine regular-season games and no points in two Calder Cup Playoff games with Hershey in the American Hockey League this season and is preparing for his first training camp with the Capitals in September.
"It is special. It's my hometown," Snively said Wednesday. "They've treated me very well. I'm very grateful to be here. This facility is great. I guess it's surreal seeing NHL logos everywhere and getting free gear. We're treated very well."
Snively remembers working with former Capitals forwards Brooks Laich and Peter Bondra at youth camps at Capitals Iceplex and playing in Mites on Ice games at Capital One Arena when he was young. Snively played for the Little Caps program for four years -- two years at the peewee level (ages 11-12) and two in bantam (13-14) -- before joining the Selects Hockey Academy under-16 program in South Kent, Connecticut, in 2011.
So he viewed the clinic with about 100 under-10 players on Wednesday as an opportunity to give back to the community and possibly inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
"I looked up to guys that were coming through the area," Snively said. "There weren't as many (as) maybe there are now. Hockey's hockey. It doesn't matter if you live in Canada or Florida or Virginia."
Snively was 9 when Alex Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, made his debut with the Capitals in 2005. His father, Richard, was a season-ticket holder, so he'd attend one or two games a season and he's witnessed the growth of interest in the Capitals and hockey in general over the past 14 years, peaking with their Stanley Cup win last season.
According to USA Hockey, there were 8,975 registered players ages 18 and under in Washington (223), Maryland (4,767) and Virginia (3,985) in Ovechkin's rookie season of 2005-06. That number rose to 13,435 for 2018-19, including 801 in Washington (an increase of 259 percent), 6,460 in Maryland (36 percent increase) and 6,174 in Virginia (55 percent increase).
"One of the big reasons is the Capitals' success," Snively said. "When I come back home from the season, I go to the rinks and there's just way more kids. Ice slots are always booked. It's really good to see."
Snively acknowledges he has work to do to get to the next level, including adding some muscle to his 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame and working on his shot, but his signing with the Capitals is an example of the progress. A political science major who graduated in May, Snively had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 33 games with Yale this season and was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the player voted to be the best in NCAA Division I men's ice hockey.
"It's a great story: a local kid and we had a chance to sign him," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "We're really fortunate that he was willing to sign with us. Lots of teams were interested in him. … It's just awesome for local hockey and the growth of hockey in the Ovechkin era. You start to see these players coming up now and it's all a result of what's happened here with the Washington Capitals."