A 15-minute power outage midway through the third period of Saturday’s first ever outdoor National Hockey League game on a military installation couldn’t dampen the excitement of the nearly 30,000 fans who witnessed a 5-2 Washington Capitals victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Naval Academy and NHL spared no pageantry for the spectacle, and kept the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on schedule despite the winds of upwards of 70 mph that battered Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium the night before.
A 300-ton refrigeration trailer remained onsite to regulate rink temperature, 350 gallons of paint were used to give the ice a white appearance, 3,000 gallons of coolant kept the ice frozen, 20,000 gallons of water were sprayed to create the two-inch ice surface and, oh yeah, a 35,760-square-foot, purely-for-decor aircraft carrier was the resting place of the rink.
During the national anthems, about 200 midshipmen marched out to man the rails of the mock carrier, bagpipers played the theme song from “Top Gun” and an F/A-18F Super Hornet of the Fighting Black Lions based out of Naval Air Station Oceana roared overhead as awestruck players looked to the heavens.
One of those players, Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie, garnered international attention in 2014 with his shootout heroics against the Russians in the Sochi Winter Olympics, a moment the Washington state native and fans of USA hockey will always remember.
But when Oshie’s Capitals dominated a Leafs squad that seemed to never have their legs under them all game, the event took on a different meaning altogether.
In a story even Hollywood would have difficulty conjuring up, Oshie’s maternal and paternal grandfathers met and became friends while serving in the Navy on the WWII-era Baltimore-class cruiser USS Saint Paul.
After leaving the service, the friends lost contact, only to learn years later that their own children — Oshie’s parents — had fallen in love, and the rest is history.
“They were buddies and were reunited through my mom and dad...It kind of came full circle there,” Oshie said. “Their kids ended up getting married without them knowing. Pretty sweet.
“It definitely makes it that much more special,” Oshie added. “With the family history, with being an American, you really never can appreciate or give enough support to our military, so I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the military there and hearing their stories.”
That childlike excitement wasn't reserved just for the players, though.
“I’m not just a player and have been on skates since I was 3 years old, but I’m also a fan,” Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr., the Academy’s superintendent, told NHL.com. “So to see an event like this happen here is almost like a dream come true. I’m like 7 years old all over again. They’ve been working on it for two years, so to see it finally come together is really exciting.”
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, one of five goal-scorers on the night for the team from D.C., called the experience “unbelievable. Like right before we get on the bus, lots of fans, lots of intensity and you get into it right away.”
The festivities also included a ceremony during the second intermission to honor the United States women’s Olympic hockey team, which won gold against Canada in the PyeongChang Olympics. And for the ceremonial puck drop, members of the gold-medal winning U.S. men’s curling team slid the puck on a curling stone from one end of the ice to the center face-off dot.
The game was the first of what the NHL hopes to be a series of games at military installations. Future outdoor games at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium and West Point’s Michie Stadium are currently in the planning stages.