T.J. Oshie sauntered to the lectern a little past 2 p.m. Tuesday, the first Washington Capitals player to speak before an ocean of red on the Mall, all there under a dazzling sun. Some of the red-clad supporters had been there since 5:30 a.m. or earlier. Some of them had driven hours. Some of them had celebrated alongside the champions on stage all weekend. Oshie leaned into the microphone.
“Sorry about my voice,” he said. “We’ve been partying in the streets for a couple of days.”
The entire city could relate. The Capitals closed the delirious celebration of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup with a parade down Constitution Avenue and a rally on the Mall, the fans stretching from 7th Street almost to the Washington Monument. One last time, fans felt a connection to one of the greatest teams in the city’s sporting history. One last time, perhaps even more poignantly, the players were still a team, this team.
“We’re such a diverse community,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We have such a diverse team, and there’s a love affair between the city and the players — it’s so fantastic. It’s sort of a life-changing moment for every one of these players and their families and myself and hopefully for the fans who had to endure a lot of time.”
Winning the Stanley Cup allowed captain Alex Ovechkin to secure his legacy, for team owner Ted Leonsis to feel vindicated in his vision, for a franchise to forever bury its haunted postseason past. But it also allowed these Capitals a few more days together. Some of them will return, but the churn of professional sports ensures some of them will move on. Tuesday, they celebrated together again.
“It’s unbelievable,” longtime center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’re going to be connected. We’re going to be friends forever. And hopefully in 20 years we’re going to be calling each other talking about this day.”
“Every time I drive on Constitution for the rest of my life, I’m going to remember this day, thanks to you guys,” goalie Braden Holtby told the crowd.
Players began the parade by hopping on double-decker, open-top tour buses along with team officials, longtime season ticket holders, staffers and others. As anyone following their post-Cup exploits this weekend would have guessed, a few players carried cases of Bud Light, and players hoisted bottles along the route. When players reached the stage at the end of the route, many of them scurried to portable toilets.
At the rally, team broadcasters announced every player one by one. Forward Brett Connolly chugged a Bud Light when he stepped forward. Rookie Chandler Stephenson downed a plastic cup with some kind of brown liquid. Oshie pulled his jersey over his head and poured a Budweiser through it, into his mouth, in some kind of newfangled fabric filtration method. Evgeny Kuznetsov uttered a four-word sentence so profane it would be impossible to recreate in a family newspaper.
“Finally,” Backstrom told the crowd, “we started playing hockey like we can party.”
The rally allowed players to relive the history they had just created. On giant screens, videos created by the Capitals video staff showed highlights from the playoffs. The biggest cheer came when Holtby’s diving save — The Save — from Game 2 of the finals was shown.
That may have been the loudest the throng became until Ovechkin walked to the microphone. Ovechkin hoisted the Cup over his head, a move he has repeated countless times since Thursday.
“What’s up, babes?” he asked the crowd, red beads hanging around his neck.
Ovechkin thanked the crowd, his family and Leonsis. He echoed the chant Oshie had started — “Back to back” — during his speech, a call for a second championship next season.
“And now,” he said, “I have a favor to do.”
Ovechkin asked the crowd to help sing a song, and anyone with a Twitter account knew which one. “We Are The Champions” blared from the speakers. Players formed a line and threw their arms around one another and sang along, something they have done time and again since they won the Cup. The crowd sang along.
Ovechkin then went back to the microphone with a final thought, shared at maximum volume.
“I said — not me say it, it was just us saying,” Ovechkin said, harking back to a now-famous preseason quote. “We’re not going to be f------ suck this year! We’re the Stanley Cup champions! Yeah!”
Ovechkin hoisted the Cup once again. A few players passed it around, and family joined on the stage before music played and they exited down a short staircase. There were more memories to share, more beers to drink. They were still a team for a little while longer. And maybe, in a way, they would stay that way forever.
“In 20 years no matter where you are, on a couch somewhere or whoever’s doing what, we’ll stop and we’re going to have a good time again,” forward Tom Wilson said. “These guys are brothers.”
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