Photos by Chris Gordon.
Nicklas Backstrom is a quiet Swedish assist machine. He sits in the background, setting up Ovi and racking up points. He’s a bit shy, often speaking to reporters siting down and speaking in a soft tone. He’s not underrated. People know Backstrom is good, but he’s just doesn’t flout it at all. That’s why he’s not one of the league’s most recognizable stars, despite the skill and stats to back it up.
But we Caps fans know how good he is. Tonight, Backstrom put on a grand Saturday night production. After not scoring in almost a month, Backstrom registered a natural hat trick, his first three goal game since 2010, as the Caps beat the Bolts 4-2.
There was a present waiting for him after the game. Upon entering the Capitals locker room, Backstrom found his locker filled with the hats thrown on the ice by fans.
“I don’t know who the f—k was doing that,” Backstrom told me. “Someone surprised me.”
I pressed various members of the Capitals on who came out with the idea. No one was talking. Barry Trotz and Nate Schmidt both told me they didn’t know. A message to Capitals PR went unreturned. I guess it’s a bit of a Secret Santa thing.
“Everyone was kinda giving him grief when he walked in,” Schmidt said when I asked him what the players thought. “You know, first star, hat trick — you gotta give a guy a little bit of trouble. Then we saw that and it was even better!”
“He deserves it,” Schmidt added. “The whole stall was filled it them. It was great!”
Since this idea was so unusual, I wondered if Trotz, who first played junior hockey in 1979 and began coaching in 1984, had seen it before. He had.
“I did, once before,” he told me. “Rob Valicevic got the first hat trick in Predator history [in 1999]. I don’t think they knew what to do with them because it was new to Nashville so people just put them in his locker because they thought ‘Oh, they must be throwing it for him!'”
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