The Capitals ultimately prevailed in a shootout, but by that point, Brasington’s mind was elsewhere. As Ovechkin celebrated his third goal, hats rained down from the PNC Arena stands, which featured a healthy contingent of fans rooting for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Before Brasington knew what happened, someone removed the fitted Nationals hat from his head and flung it toward the ice. Brasington was momentarily relieved when his tattered headwear, which he purchased at the Lids store at Potomac Mills in late 2004, landed short of the glass, one section over. Then he watched as another Capitals fan picked up the hat and tossed it again.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, there it goes,’" said Brasington, who grew up in Stafford and has been a Capitals fan since 1985. “I just watched it on the ice.”
After the game, Brasington sought out a Hurricanes employee who might be able to help reunite him with a hat that was much more than a hat to the Marine Corps veteran. When told that retrieving his hat was impossible, Brasington explained that he’d worn the hat around the world as a government contractor after serving in the Marines, including three trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. It was a reminder of places he’d been and friends he’d lost. Brasington needed his hat with the curly 'W' on the front and block ‘Nationals’ on the back, and not only because he’d never managed to find another one that fit quite as well.
“I think, total, that thing has seen 33 countries, four IEDs, and two combat zones,” Brasington said.
Before exiting the arena, Brasington left his contact information with a guest services representative, who said she would see what she could do. On the walk back to his hotel, a despondent Brasington called a former colleague from D.C., who suggested he get in touch with The Post’s Capitals beat reporter extraordinaire, Isabelle Khurshudyan.
Late Friday night, Brasington laid out his predicament in an email to Khurshudyan, who made no guarantees, but offered to help. Khurshudyan then emailed Pace Sagester, the Hurricanes' manager of communications and team services, who previously spent four years working for the Capitals. Sagester exchanged emails with Brasington. Meanwhile, Sagester’s colleague, Mike Sundheim, called the head of the ice crew that had been responsible for clearing the ice after Ovechkin’s third goal. It turned out the hats, which some teams offer to the player who recorded the hat trick or donate to a local charity, were still in a large bag in the bowels of PNC Arena.
Saturday was an off day for the Hurricanes, but Sagester and Sundheim arrived before practice on Sunday to search for Brasington’s hat. It wasn’t hard to locate.
“There was a good amount of hats in the bag, but his hat was right on top,” Sagester said. “From the way that he had described it to us, we pretty much knew right away that that was the hat. We dug through a couple other hats just to make sure, but that was pretty much the only Nats hat. It’s super beat up; the bill has, like, chunks missing out of it. It’s almost pink it’s so faded. It’s not something I would want to put on my head, but it’s special to him.”
“Everybody that knows me knows me for wearing that Nationals hat,” Brasington said. “It’s the ugliest. It probably has to be washed once a week because it ends up smelling so bad. It’s a special piece of where I’ve been and it kind of describes me. My wife’s been trying to make me replace it."
Sagester sent Brasington a photo of the hat to confirm that it was his, and asked for his address. Brasington’s hat arrived via FedEx on Tuesday, along with a handwritten note and a brand new Hurricanes cap.
“We’re certainly glad we could do that for him,” Sagester said. “Obviously, we would do that for anyone, but the fact that he did serve and that was a hat that was special to him because it had been with him in Iraq and Afghanistan, we knew that we needed to do anything we could to get him that hat back . . . I assume that he’s a Capitals fan, but hopefully after this experience, we can convert him.”
It remains a mystery who set this tale in motion by tossing Brasington’s hat after Ovechkin’s third goal, but Brasington wouldn’t rule out his good friend, who came down from West Virginia with his wife to attend Friday’s game, as a suspect.
“Our entire section was just saturated with Capitals fans,” Brasington said. “I asked my buddy, ‘Did you just throw that?’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t touch your hat.’ We’re not always honest with each other when we do dumb things, so I don’t know how the hat wound up on the ice."
Brasington said he was grateful for all the help he received in locating his hat. While he might not wear his new Hurricanes lid the next time he makes the trip to see the Capitals in Raleigh, he may leave his beloved Nationals hat at home. His wife has even talked about displaying it in a shadow box.
“That way, everybody wins,” Brasington said. “I keep my hat, and she doesn’t have to see me wearing it.”
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