The Washington Capitals turned the Festival of Lights into Hockey Hanukkah this year.
The Chabad synagogue in Olney, Maryland put together a menorah made of Capitals game-used hockey sticks, and Peter Bondra helped kick off Hanukkah by lighting the candle on the first night Sunday.
"In my philosophy, and looking at that hockey-stick menorah, to me it symbolized an integrated life," Chabad Rabbi Bentzy Stolik told NHL.com. "I firmly believe that the spiritual, represented by the menorah flame, should inspire every part of our life, including our passion for sports. The whole Hanukkah story is about fighting for religious freedom and taking that on with pride, and I think integrating that into every part of our life is so fitting."
Each of the menorah's eight arms are made up of hockey sticks, commemorating the holiday's number of nights. The Capitals donated 35 sticks and 50 pucks to the synagogue to build the nine-foot menorah, which took weeks to finish the design and eight hours to build.
Lars Eller's stick is used as the shamash, the candle used to light each of the other eight, at the suggestion of community member Daniel Gittleson. Eller scored the Cup-clinching victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final that boosted the Capitals to their first championship in 44 years, and the first major pro-sports title for a Washington, D.C. team since 1991.
"[Eller] had the game-winning goal," Gittleson told the Washington Post. "It only seemed right."
Chabad annually puts a themed menorah adjacent to a Christmas tree in the Olney town square for Hanukkah. Past menorah themes have included ice sculptures and tin cans, but as the Capitals were winning the Stanley Cup in June, and the community was rallying around their run, it became clear the Capitals had to be the theme this year.
"A couple of our community members were already talking about Hanukkah, and we said that's it; that's the lightbulb moment and we said 'we've got to make this work,'" Stolik said. "It had been so many years since a major team here won any championships, so this place is kind of starved with that. It really did strike a cord."
They contacted the Capitals, who were more than willing to be part of the celebration. Aside from Bondra, Washington's mascot Slapshot was also among those in attendance at the lighting Sunday.
"It was an absolutely terrific event," Stolik said. "I would say better than we would have even imagined."