My dad first took me to the Capital Centre when I was five. From Patrick Division rivalries to Presidents’ Trophies and playoff heartbreaks, the Caps have been my team ever since. As a presidential speechwriter for Barack Obama in 2016, I was assigned, long before the season ended, his remarks for the Stanley Cup champions’ annual White House visit. I had the audacity to hope that I would be writing for us.
You know how the story ends. Our archrivals from Pittsburgh won, and I had to tackle the hardest speech of my career.
When the time comes, who knows what sort of reception, if any, the Capitals will get from the current administration?
But nevertheless, here goes my shot at the speech that they deserve:
Welcome to the White House, everybody! I’m glad to see that you all made it, which means T.J. Oshie must owe someone 35 cents.
In their first year the Capitals lost 37 road games—in a row. When they snapped the streak in the season’s final week, the players skated around the ice with a plastic trash bin that forward Tommy Williams found in the locker room. They hoisted it over their heads like a trophy and called it the Stanley Can.
This year the group behind me became the first Capitals team to defeat decades of disappointment and lift the real thing. The oldest trophy in sports finally bears the name of this proud franchise—etched, of course, in all caps. Along with it, some other names have debuted on Lord Stanley’s Cup: Braden. Lars. Jakub. Devante.
A lot of folks never thought they’d see the day. Let’s be honest: Many of them rock the red themselves. Even general manager Brian MacLellan said his team’s window for winning it all had closed last year.
We knew this season was going to be special when captain Alex Ovechkin became the first player in 100 years to start a campaign with back-to-back hat tricks. As the weather got colder the Caps got hotter, winning eight of nine in December and jumping from sixth place to second. In March they won on a frozen pond at the Naval Academy and then went on a 9-and-1 run.
Along the way Ovechkin became the fourth-fastest player to tally 600 goals. The most dominant scorer of his generation, the Great Eight strikes fear in penalty killers everywhere from the left-wing face-off circle—the Ovie Office, if you will.
Throughout the regular season coach Barry Trotz spoke often about resilience. In the playoffs we all got to see what he meant.
The Caps gave away two overtime home games before taking the first round in Columbus. To avenge years of heartbreak and get past Pittsburgh, Washington had to dress five rookies in Game 6. The Caps stared down elimination against Tampa Bay twice before clinching the conference.
And then Washington unleashed fury against Vegas on the wings of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s offense, Tom Wilson’s toughness and a Braden Holtby save that hockey fans will talk about—and Alex Tuch will have nightmares about—forever.
Incredibly this team won each playoff round on the road. But that’s not nearly as important as what it does year-round back home.
The Capitals champion families of fallen service members. They support organizations working to end cancer, hunger and homelessness. And for years they have painted locker rooms, strung goal nets and held hockey clinics for kids in Anacostia.
No other sport’s trophy does so much to remind us that we’re each part of something bigger than ourselves. Most victors get to keep their spoils—but there’s only one Stanley Cup.
Each team holds it for only a year because each season is but one stanza in the long tradition of the good old hockey game. And since everyone plays a part in winning the Cup, each player hangs onto it for only a day—what John Walton might call one very good morning, good afternoon and good night.
While the names of coaches, management and staff are immortalized in silver alongside the players’, one critical component is always left off of the Cup: the fans.
Anyone who has sat in the stands or tuned in on TV has heard the chant.
“Let’s! Go! Caps!”
It starts behind the east net, deep in the bellowing lungs of William Stilwell, who is better known as Goat and was born the same year as the team. Or with the three notes that ring forth from Sam Wolk’s hand-painted horn, high in the 400 level.
It’s a chant echoed by 90-year-old Grace Cohen, a season-ticket holder since game one. And by 10-year-old Addy Flint, who forged a friendship with Oshie while being treated for kidney cancer.
It’s a chant echoed across the DMV and from as far away as the UAE, where the women’s national hockey team has been part of the Caps family ever since Fatima Al Ali’s slick stickhandling caught Peter Bondra’s eye.
Caps fans: You might not see your name on this Cup, but it belongs to you too. It belongs to everyone who rallied to save the team in the 1980s, summoned pizza goals in the ’90s, or traded e-mails with Ted Leonsis.
Everyone who showed up at Kettler, schlepped your kids to a game and shared Ovie’s Pittsburgh prayer: “Please bleeping score.”
Everyone who practiced your superstitions, packed the Portrait Gallery steps and promised each other this spring that it’s O.K. to believe.
You’re as resilient as your team. As Nicklas Backstrom said, “Without these fans, we’re nothing.”
What Goat and Sam set in motion is something that we’ve always known about this country: One voice can change the people around us. If it can do that, it can change an arena. It can change a franchise. It can change history.
The mile from your rink to this room is the shortest distance any team has traveled for a championship ceremony. But it’s been a long journey from that plastic can to this Stanley Cup. Along the way the Washington Capitals have earned more than hardware—you’ve earned the loyalty of a community and your place among the game’s greatest.
Stephen Krupin, the director of executive communications at the consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, served as a speechwriter for President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Harry Reid.