It was an ordinary day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Caps players took part in an optional practice, one of the countless and rather mundane skates they will participate in this season. That was, of course, until William Shannon joined in.
William is five years old and suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His dream is to play for the Washington Capitals. For a few hours at least that dream was realized thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic chapter.
With the players wrapping up their on-ice workout, William took the ice, clad in the sweater of his favorite player, Alex Ovechkin, and Ovi’s signature yellow laces. He has been playing hockey since 2009, but had to stop late that year because of side-effects from his treatment. That didn’t keep him out of the rink for long, however, and in February of last year he was back, feeling so weak he had to use a walker, but nonetheless on the ice.
“This is phenomenal. This is every kid’s wish,” William’s mom Sandy told me. “For William, it’s even bigger. Hockey is what has gotten him through. Our hard days, our tough days, we are watching hockey. On our better days he’s playing hockey … To actually be strong enough, to be confidant enough, to be good enough of a skater to hold his own in a way with these players out here, you know, it’s joyful. It’s hope. It’s saying, ‘you’ve got a lifetime’.”
William’s day at Kettler began with a meeting with the Great Eight, who presented him with one of his signed sticks. William was then taken to the Capitals dressing room where, to his amazement, a personalized locker was set up for him, his skates hung up and all.
Bruce Boudreau broke the news. William would get skate with the Caps.
“His eyes just lit up,” Sandy said. “He was so excited.”
After competing against Jason Chimera, Mike Green and D.J. King for a while, William got a special treat. Taking to the net to face him was none other than Semyon Varlamov. A shootout drill followed. Varlamov remained strong in his crease early on, but after Varly got a little too aggressive William starting racking up the goals to the delight of the crowd at the practice facility, who cheered and banged on the glass.
“He played hard out there,” said Sandy. “He played as hard as he could. We saw the best of William on the ice.”
Green, one of the best defensemen in the sport, agreed.
“He’s a good little player,” he said. “We were giving it to him a little bit. I think I slashed him once. D.J. hit him. We were roughing him up a bit. He handled himself well out there.”
William and his family, who hail from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, will get to join some of the same fans who cheered for them on Friday when they attend the Capitals match-up with the Buffalo Sabres Saturday evening. William, his sister Emily, mother and father Devin will sit in seats purchased by Ovechkin as part of “Ovi’s Crazy Eights.” After the game, William will be presented with Alexander Semin’s game jersey, right off the back of Sasha Minor himself.
“It’s just been an amazing experience and it’s one that he and his entire family will have for the rest of their lives,” said Allyson Butler of Mid-Atlantic Make-A-Wish. “We try to make every wish its own and go beyond the child’s imagination. That’s the beauty in what we do.”
As he left the ice, Capitals General Manager George McPhee quipped that he would like to speak with William, possibly to negotiate a contract with the young forward.
Just before he stepped into the Capitals dressing room, a familiar face greeted Will at the door. “I saw you on TV,” William said to CSN Washington’s Joe Beninati. Joe B. preceded to announce the play-by-play for William’s game-winning goal for the Capitals, something that no one is saying won’t happen again in the future.
“He’s determined he’s going to be a Cap,” Sandy said. “One day he’s going to be a Cap himself. And I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Chimera and King react after Green accidentally trips William.
Varly pretends to break his stick after allowing a soft goal to William. Pro tip: your legs, not back, go on the ice.
All photos by Chris Gordon
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