Sunglasses and eye black — a grease applied under the eyes to reduce glare — aren't typically seen at a National Hockey League game, but then again, there are not many professional ice hockey games played outdoors.
The NHL began staging outdoor games on New Year’s Day in 2008, and the U.S. capital got to host the special event for the first time Thursday. The Washington Capitals defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in a game played at Nationals Park, the home stadium of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals.
Jim Hoover, who painted his face red and sported a Capitals jersey that read "Man in Red," attended the game with his wife, Lilly.
“This is great. We’ve been waiting for this to come around [to Washington] for a long time," Hoover said. "We were really excited when Washington got to play Pittsburgh [at the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh] a couple years back. And you can just see the number of people here. It’s great. We’ve got great weather here.”
The early-afternoon game time temperature at faceoff was 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit), but the ice was kept hard by special refrigerated pipes beneath the surface. The sun shone brightly, and early in the game, the shadows did make following the puck a bit tricky for the players, especially the goalkeepers.
It took more than two weeks of construction to build the ice rink on top of the baseball stadium's field, but for the home fans in the sellout crowd of 42,832, it was well worth it, even though they paid premium prices to attend the big event. They were able to watch their Capitals get the winning goal with only 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation to defeat the Blackhawks, who have the most wins in the NHL so far this season.
Forward Troy Brouwer, who scored the game-winner, said it was a special day for him in many ways.
“I’ve had some good moments in my hockey career, but this one, with all the intangibles that played a part in it — my parents were able to come into town [to see it], playing against my former team, this being the first goal that I’ve scored against my former team, the dramatic fashion at the end of the game, of how everything played out — it's going to be a memorable day," he said.
Early in the game, no one could have predicted such a dramatic finish. Washington took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Eric Fehr and captain Alex Ovechkin. But Chicago battled back, and going into the final period, the game was tied at 2-2. Both teams had late power plays in the final period, but it was the Capitals who capitalized on theirs to get the victory.
Ovechkin said he could not have imagined a better finish.
"I think just the whole day was unbelievable," he said. "This event was outstanding. The atmosphere on the ice from the first second was unreal. You know we’ll remember it all our lives."