COLUMBUS, Ohio – Late in the debut episode of Epix’s “Road to the Winter Classic,” viewers visited the Arlington bachelor pad of Capitals forwards Tom Wilson and Michael Latta. They watched the two youngsters, a second-year NHLer and rookie respectively, play table tennis and hang out by the fireplace, which Wilson insisted as a requirement of their apartment search. They glimpsed into the fridge, stocked with ketchup from a Costco run, but not much else. Then, as Wilson and Latta sat on the couch, they heard the phrase colleague Scott Allen ranked No. 9 on his top-10 D.C. phrases of 2014.
(How’s that for company synergy?)
“No one touches our dad,” Wilson said.
“Dad” is center Nicklas Backstrom, among the most respected veterans inside Washington’s locker room and, apparently, a surrogate father to these roommates. It was an inside joke, everyone confirmed, though revealing it to an all-access camera crew made it not-so-inside anymore.
“I don’t know where it comes from,” Backstrom said. “It’s probably just because they’re new here. Making a story, I guess.”
Pressed further, Backstrom began to understand. Even without realizing it – perhaps because he was occupied hosting 19-year-old rookie and fellow Swede Andre Burakovsky as a houseguest – he had become a mentor figure to Wilson and Latta.
“He’s such a great guy,” Wilson said. “Anyone you talk to, he’s a real nice guy and a good leader on this team. He’s had a great career. Latts and I definitely look up to him. He’s been good to us.”
This season, Coach Barry Trotz promoted Wilson to the top line and charged him with guarding the team’s most prized assets: Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Though neither the savvy puck-handler nor the 230-pound steam-engine train needed much protection, they welcomed Wilson’s muscle and dominated possession Columbus in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win, all without anyone logging a point. And no one touched their dad.
“It’s important that older guys have conversations with the young guys here, make sure they’re welcome and understand what it is to be an NHL player every day.” Backstrom said. “I think as a player, if you’ve been here as a player, you need to think about it.”
There was another family member Wilson and Latta failed to mention, the one they call “Uncle Greenie.” Mike Green and Backstrom both logged their official rookie seasons together in 2007-08, and have been core members in Washington ever since.
“Those guys are so good to us, the older guys,” Latta said. “It’s just something we can do to keep the flies off his back on the ice and stuff, just have that respect for him, Greenie, all those older guys.”
As Latta posited, they probably saw reflections of their younger selves in Latta and Wilson.
“Yeah that’s probably right,” Backstrom said. “Back in the days, we were kind of like that, yeah. Just the friendship and stuff like that. We were close, always hanging out. We didn’t live with each other, but we were close.”