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Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks Take the Ice for Winter Classic

Today’s game sold out months ago. The NHL pitted the Chicago Blackhawks against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., for the immensely popular Winter Classic that started seven years ago.

The outdoor spectacular is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern, but the sun could pose a problem. The NHL told the teams the game could be delayed because of glare.

“We were warned today that there might be a time change based on glare, if there’s too much sun,” said Capitals center Brooks Laich. “But I think I’d rather deal with sun than rain. I think even with sun, you’re going to have better ice conditions, you’re going to have a better product on the ice, which we still want a very good hockey game for the people to watch.”

It turns out the NHL picked two great teams for the game. Oddsmakers favor the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup while the Capitals boast a 6-1-3 record in their last ten games. As The Washington Post points out, the first meeting between the teams did not end well for Blackhawks. The Capitals stormed back after being down two goals. The team managed to score two goals within 42 seconds to win 3-2.

Exciting players fill each team. Alex Ovechkin is very popular. Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane sealed hockey-household-name status years ago. The game could also place the Capitals in the national spotlight. Ovechkin already noticed many changes since his 2005-2006 rookie season. The fact the NHL chose the team to play in and host the game shows “everything has changed.”

“Our group of guys here now are more mature,” Ovechkin said. “We’re ready to take a big step. It’s something when you’re growing up you can see how it’s changed. It’s a great thing when you’re a part of it. Me and Brooks [Lach] and Greenie [Mike Green] are the only three guys that have been here after the [2004-05] lockout. I’ve been growing up. I get mature. I get older. I look at the game in a different way right now. It’s hard to explain. When I’m on the ice I want to do something different than I did the first couple years.”

In a heartwarming gesture, the Capitals placed a “white decal with the initials ‘CR’ in red” on their helmets “to honor Clint Reif,” the Blackhawks assistant equipment manager who passed away. Reif, only 34, was found dead in his home on December 21. Blackhawks star Patrick Sharp choked up and ended interviews when he attempted to talk about Reif. Chicago officials are investigating his death. He left behind a wife and four children. The Capitals training staff suggested the idea to head coach Barry Trotz.

“I think what you find in this community–the hockey community–it’s a lot smaller than people think, and the trainers are very close,” he said. “They’re very tight just like all the players are across the league, the coaches; all that. When a member goes down they all want to show the respect.”

The team even reached out to the Blackhawks to make sure it was okay.

“I didn’t know that, but that is a pretty cool gesture,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “We’ve heard over the last couple of weeks the influence and the effect that Clint’s had not only on the guys in this locker room, but guys that he’s worked with or gotten to know in the past with other teams. I think everyone at this point knows that he had that personality that he was kind of sociable, a very happy person, a connector and everyone enjoyed being around him. They’re chipping in, showing their thoughts, and it’s much appreciated.”

The team set up a special locker at Nationals Park for Reif. Toews explained why the training staff is a main reason why a team is successful:

I don’t think people realize that much how hard our trainers do work and what they do on a daily basis. When your team wins a Stanley Cup you go from day one all the way to the end working day by day, and every day you’re with those guys. You get in late from a road trip and their up a couple hours later putting stuff away. You come back to the rink and you expect things to be a certain way so you can resume your routine so you can just focus on playing hockey. Well, they’re making sure you can do that. They’re with you every step of the way. A lot of our success starts with their work ethic. Clint meant a lot not only for what he did as far as his job in this locker room, but just the guy that he was. Absolutely he is part of this team, he will be for a long time.

The game starts at 1 p.m. on NBC.

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