“They started off so bad, so bad, even the commissioner [Gary Bettman] was telling me things were not looking too good for this team,” Trump said. “But they set records.”
The outdoor ceremony was reminiscent of the traditional sports team visits to the White House that date from the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Last year, after the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup, Trump invited the team to visit the Oval Office and allowed reporters in to mark the occasion, but he did not preside over a formal ceremony.
The visit of the Blues included a host of dignitaries, including Republican members of Congress from their home state of Missouri. Among them was Rep. Billy Long, a trained auctioneer, who at Trump’s request took the lectern for a mock auction of the Stanley Cup.
The winning “bid” was $65,000. Long then asked Trump to sign his tie, noting another tie signed by the president during the State of the Union address fetched $15,000 in an auction for charity.
The players, coaches and team owner Tom Stillman took their positions behind the presidential lectern, but they had to wait a bit for Trump to turn his full attention to them. The president, making his first public appearance of the day, used the top of his remarks to defend his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, announcing that Vice President Pence plans to leave Wednesday for the region to try to broker a cease fire to stop Turkey’s assault on Kurdish forces that have marked the U.S. pullback.
Trump also hailed improvements in the stock market, suggesting the markets were buoyed by his announcement last week of a partial trade deal with China — a deal that has yet to be finalized.
Once he did focus on the Blues, Trump appeared to be in good spirits. He called center Alexander Steen, who is missing a tooth, to the lectern to praise his toughness (“You think I could take him in a fight?”), and he offered a kiss on the cheek to Laila Anderson, an 11-year-old who suffers from a rare immune disorder and who became an inspiration to the team.
Trump also jokingly suggested that Stillman, who worked in the Commerce Department three decades ago, return to federal government service.
“I’m sticking with hockey,” Stillman replied with a chuckle.
The Blues arrived in Washington during a lengthy East Coast swing that also included a Monday night trip to Nationals Park to root for the Cardinals, just as the Cardinals had for them during their Stanley Cup run. (The Blues left disappointed, with the Nationals taking a 3-0 lead in the National League Championship Series with an 8-1 win.)
The hockey and baseball teams in St. Louis and Washington have long been intertwined. The Nationals cheered on the Capitals as they won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and now, with the Nationals in the NLCS, the Caps are returning the favor. The fates aligned for the Blues to do the same in Washington; after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders on Monday, they made it to D.C. for the 7:38 p.m. first pitch.
“It’s pretty crazy when you look at it,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Athletic. “It could be a great opportunity for us as a team to do that and support our fellow St. Louisans. It’s pretty ironic that we’re in a city that we actually don’t have a game in, with nothing going on, to be able to make this happen. For us, things like that don’t really line up on the road during the year — ever — so it’s pretty ironic.”
There’s some cross-pollination, too. T.J. Oshie, the Capitals right winger who formerly played for the Blues, rooted for his former team to win the Stanley Cup after the Caps were eliminated, and he has a sweet little bet going with Barret Jackman, the retired Blues defenseman. The loser has to treat the winner to golf and dinner.
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