WASHINGTON -- Peter Bondra spent 14 seasons playing for the Washington Capitals and has watched them become part of the fabric of the community in this historic city.
So it was no surprise to see Bondra, 46, smiling ear to ear Tuesday, when he was able to skate on the fresh sheet of ice with a small gathering of former teammates and media members at Nationals Park, two days before the Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"I think it's a big event, especially for Washington," Bondra said. "D.C. has become a hockey town and they've got a great team. I mean, they've got Alex Ovechkin, so it's going to bring attention. Nationals Park, we're just a couple of blocks from the White House. This is going to be a really great festivity.
"You go to Verizon [Center] for a regular-season game, and it gets a lot of attention. People are excited about the upcoming Winter Classic. You see a lot of dark red colors in the building and Winter Classic colors. This means a lot. I'm very excited. As a hockey fan, you get to come here and watch Washington and Chicago? Wow. Two good teams. This is really becoming a holiday of hockey."
Much like every player who has participated in the Winter Classic festivities over the past seven years, Bondra began thinking about his childhood the moment he stepped on the ice at Nationals Park.
"Being out here, it reminds of being on the open ice, open ponds," said Bondra, who grew up in Lutsk, Ukraine. "You skated on pretty much anything that froze when I was young. It will be fun [Thursday]. I'm looking forward to it."
Not soon after taking a few strides, the hockey player in Bondra took over. He said he was impressed with the quality of the ice and that the Blackhawks and Capitals will feel the same way when they practice outdoors Wednesday.
"Even being out there today, I thought if I was in the game [Thursday], how would I prepare?" Bondra said. "The ice is really pretty quick. So if it's my first time, I wouldn't sharpen my skates as deep. I'd make it a little less hollow and make sure I'm not deep on the ice. But today it was pretty quick ice. I probably have to skate on it a couple of more times and make sure I have a pretty good feel for this ice. But overall, it's going to be a great experience."
Bondra last played in the NHL in 2006-07, when he had five goals and nine assists in 37 games for the Blackhawks. He was a two-time 50-goal scorer during his time in Washington and finished with 503 goals and 389 assists in 1,081 games for the Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers and Blackhawks. He had 56 points (30 goals, 26 assists) in 80 Stanley Cup Playoff games and helped the Capitals reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1998.
Asked if he misses playing, Bondra said, "Of course. But today was really a gift. I was able to skate out here and break a sweat and have fun. I was able to see a couple of my old teammates. There was a couple of generations of Washington Capitals like Craig Laughlin, Alan May, Sylvain Cote … it was good. Good to see those guys."