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Capitals will enjoy every bit of NHL Winter Classic

by Dan Rosen

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich won't make the same mistake twice when it comes to an event that provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most NHL players.

Laich's view on the growing hype and preparation for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. is quite different from how he allowed himself to approach playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

"I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points," Laich said. "I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.'

"I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day."

The first images of where the rink will be situated and the jerseys the Capitals will be wearing during the NHL Winter Classic will be on display Tuesday during a press conference at Nationals Park, the home of the Washington Nationals.

"It's good for city, good for fans," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of the NHL Winter Classic coming to Washington. "It's going to be fun time for players, families and for city. It's going to be a cool thing to do. I'm pretty sure everybody is going to be excited. The whole town is going to be excited. When you step on the ice you can see all the crowd cheering for you. It's cool stuff."

Ovechkin remembers that cool feeling from the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. He said his experience, including the build-up to the game with the hype that featured him and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, was thrilling.

"It was a great time," Ovechkin said. "The rivalry with me and Sid, Washington and Pittsburgh, it was great."

The only thing that wasn't great was the weather. The temperature at puck drop was an unseasonably warm 51 degrees with overcast skies and light rain that became heavier during the game. The rain forced the start of the game to be delayed from early afternoon to the evening.

"In warmups we were making passes, and literally you make a pass and you'd be spraying water in the guy's face," said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who played for the Penguins in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. "I remember just trying to get through that game."

Orpik also played in a Stadium Series game last season at Soldier Field in Chicago on March 1. The announced temperature at the start of the game was 17.4 degrees Fahrenheit and it snowed throughout the game, heavily at times.

"I think that was the coldest I've ever been playing hockey," Orpik said.

He's hoping for something in between the two extremes for the game against the Blackhawks on Jan. 1. Either way, the Capitals won't let this event go by without it being fully embraced by everyone in and around D.C., including Laich.

"As I've gotten older and more experienced you realize how lucky you are," Laich said. "To have one of these in a hockey-crazy market like D.C., I think it's going to be a fantastic event."


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