ARLINGTON, Va. -- Joe Snively doesn't remember exactly when the chance meeting took place, but it has even more meaning after the Yale University senior signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals as an undrafted free agent on Monday.
Snively, a 23-year-old forward, grew up in Herndon, Virginia, playing in the Washington Little Caps program at the Capitals practice facility in Arlington. One day, when he was at the dentist for his annual cleaning, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin walked in.
"He was obviously a lot younger than he is now because this might have been 10 years ago," Snively said. "I can't remember, but of course, I recognized him. I had my hockey bag in the car, because I was going to practice, and I got a pair of hockey gloves signed, which was funny."
The idea of being teammates with Ovechkin might have seemed farfetched back then. It's a lot closer to becoming a reality now.
"You grow up watching the Caps, you dream of playing for them," Snively said. "It felt really great to sign a contract with the Capitals, but my goal is to play in an NHL game with them and I've still got a lot of work to do before that."
Ovechkin, 33, appreciates that a player who grew rooting for him and the Capitals is now part of the organization.
"Yeah, it's pretty cool for this area, for fans and for kids," Ovechkin said before the Capitals left for their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV). "They see the progress that hockey had in the United States and, obviously, in D.C., and it's pretty cool."
Although Snively's NHL contract doesn't begin until next season, it's possible he'll join Hershey of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout agreement to get some professional experience this season if he can fit it in around his classes.
A political science major, Snively had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 33 games with Yale this season. In four seasons with the Bulldogs, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder had 139 points (58 goals, 81 assists) in 129 games, leading the team in points each season, and was nominated in each of the past two seasons for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the player voted to be the top in NCAA Division I men's ice hockey.
Snively said he talked to about five NHL teams before choosing the Capitals. That they were his hometown team was a factor in his decision.
"They're my favorite team. I root for them every year," he said. "It was really special to watch them win the Stanley Cup last spring, and I've been following them all the way since they wore the old black and gold jerseys. My dad's a season-ticket holder. Every year, I watch the Caps."
Snively had an up-close look at the growth of hockey in the area that's coincided with the arrival of Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, and other players such as Nicklas Backstrom (his favorite Capitals player), who was selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.
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 13,307 by 2017-18, including 715 in Washington (an increase of 221 percent), 6,481 in Maryland (36 percent increase) and 6,111 in Virginia (53 percent increase).
"When the Caps started to become successful, you could just see the amount of people in the local rinks, it started to increase," Snively said. "More kids wanted to play hockey. … It became a hockey city. It's been really cool to witness and be a local of Northern Virginia and just see how the hockey community's just gotten so much bigger."
Snively played for the Little Caps for four years -- two years at the pee wee level (ages 11-12) and two in bantam (13-14) -- before joining the Selects Academy under-16 program in South Kent, Connecticut, in 2011. He was then selected by Sioux City in the fourth round (No. 57) in the 2012 United States Hockey League Futures Draft, where he had 125 points (50 goals, 75 assists) in 159 games over three seasons before heading to Yale.
"Just a really great story in terms of being a local player, playing in this rink growing up," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "To me, he's [evidence] of generations of players that are starting to come around thanks to Ovechkin and Backstrom and the growth of the organization. It's going to be fun to watch the next few years the impact that they've been able to have on young hockey players and building the game of hockey in the area."
Ovechkin is glad he's been able to play a part in that.
"I think the whole organization has to be happy and be very proud of it," he said.