Braden Holtby will start tonight at Verizon Center — for the Hershey Bears. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)


For the first time in nearly seven months there will be hockey played at Verizon Center Thursday night.

The NHL lockout, which is in its 82nd day, continues to keep the Washington Capitals off the ice. But for one night there will be a refuge for area hockey fans in the form of the AHL Showcase.

The Capitals’ minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, will take on the Norfolk Admirals, farm team of the Anaheim Ducks, at 7 p.m. in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,506. Capitals season ticket holders were given the option to purchase tickets first, according to Monumental Sports and Entertainment spokesman Kurt Kehl, who added that more than 11,000 of the tickets sold for the AHL contest were bought by non-season ticket holders.

Playing in front of a crowd that large may be a new experience for some of the Bears, but it’s a familiar place for goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. Both Holtby and Orlov are expected to join the Capitals whenever the lockout ends, and Thursday night they’ll make their long-delayed 2012-13 debut on F Street.

“It’s great to be back to see the training staff and everyone involved with the team especially. I get pretty close to those guys and it’s good to see them again,” Holtby said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex following the Bears’ morning skate. “It’s definitely different without seeing the familiar faces in the locker room. That kind of makes this place what it is, the people around. It’s good to be back, but it’s definitely a little weird.”

Holtby will get the start for Hershey Thursday night, marking his first appearance in a Verizon Center net since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Rangers on May 6.

“It brings back memories, obviously, of last year,” Holtby said of returning to the Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington. “The last time I was in here was obviously a sad day that we were out, but there was a lot of great times at the end of last year. I think we’re all ready to get back and make more of those memories.”

Back in October, as the AHL season was about to start, Holtby said he considered himself lucky to have a place to play while the labor negotiations continued. He reiterated that Thursday morning, saying that he doesn’t believe time in Hershey has impacted his development in any negative way and that it wasn’t difficult for him to adjust mentally to returning to the AHL after staking his claim to the Capitals’ No. 1 goaltender position last spring.

“I think it was more that there wouldn’t be any NHL; just in general as a fan, a player, that’s what you live your life based around,” Holtby said when asked what’s been the toughest adjustment for him mentally. “That’s the hardest part to take, not being back in Hershey. I’m very thankful to be here, to get to play. We have a great group of guys here and it’s been great, but definitely I would like to get the NHL back going for fans, everyone involved.”