Seven years ago, Joseph Caprario’s father took his eight-year-old son to a Washington Capitals game after winning a charity auction. This was back in 2008, when Mike Green was electric and on his way to a 31-goal season. After that game, little Joseph met Green. The defenseman gave the fan a game-used stick and signed the blade with a silver Sharpie. Joseph treasured it; he hung the stick on his wall. For the affable Green, it was a routine gesture.
“A few months later, I started playing hockey myself,” Caprario told me. “Meeting Green was what inspired me to do so. I started as a defenseman. He was my favorite player.”
Elyssa Cole, a 29-year-old teacher in Sterling, Virginia, has always been a huge fan of the Caps and an even huger fan of Mike Green. She loves collecting Caps memorabilia. Five years ago, she found on eBay something she had to have. It was a Mike Green game-used stick. Cole splurged, shelling out $200 to buy it.
On Sunday, both Caprario and Cole made the hour-long trip to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to give back to the guy they felt had already done so much for them.
“I figured that if this stick is so good to him that he plays better, this was the right thing to do,” Cole told me. “As a fan, I’d do anything to help the team win.”
Three weeks ago, as the Capitals played the Columbus Blue Jackets on national TV, friend-of-the-blog Jared Spears asked me if I saw the stick Green was sporting during warm-ups. “Holy hell, [he’s] using a Easton Stealth CNT,” Jared told me. “They stopped making it in like 2007.”
This was the stick Green famously used to score ten times in eight straight games in 2008, setting an NHL record for defensemen. Reluctantly, Green agreed to donate it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He later got it back before breaking it during the Caps’ playoff run.
A week after we learned about the new stick, Chris Gordon spoke to Green at Kettler about how he acquired it.
Green said he had found it hidden in storage in his garage. Teammate Karl Alzner had a Stealth CNT from seven years ago in his garage up in British Columbia. Alzner is trying to get it to Kettler.
“I’m slowly trying to collect them,” said Green at the time. He was open to anything, including eBay, “if there’s any out there.”
Gordon’s story went viral– at least in hockey circles. It was the most read article on Reddit Hockey that day. Recreational hockey players across the country sympathized with Green and his preference for a certain, rare piece of equipment. National outlets picked up the story. The story was read by tens of thousands of people. It is the most-read RMNB story of the season.
We did not expect that article to be so popular, and we did not expect what happened next.
The next day, one reader said he might have the stick Green was looking for. I replied and asked him to send me photos. Other readers saw my email address and sent me messages with sticks they were willing to give to Green too– some of which had been personally signed by Green. Many readers who messaged us were willing to donate their prized pieces of memorabilia with the expectation of nothing in return.
Emails read the same: Green had gone out of his way to do something nice for the fans; the fans wanted to return the favor.
On Sunday, March 16th, the Capitals allowed Caprario and Cole to meet Green at the Caps’ Virginia practice facility before the team’s morning meeting.
After a few minutes of waiting, Green came out of the locker room wearing a Caps hat, a Caps shirt, and the biggest grin in human history.
He came bearing gifts. He wouldn’t accept a donation; he wanted to make a hockey trade.
Green offered up two game-used Easton sticks from this season and signed them.
Did we mention he was happy?
Green autographed other items for the fans and chatted with their families until he was needed inside. It was a genuine moment. Green asked Joseph Caprario about his hockey team, giving him tips on how to improve. He gave Elyssa Cole a hug– she told me later it was “hard not to freak out.”
“Today was worth it just to see the look on his face,” Cole said. “He was so happy.”
Towards the end of the meet-up, Green excused himself to examine his old-but-new Stealth CNT Sticks resting against the wall. As he walked over, he shook his head in disbelief and smiled again. He picked one of the sticks up and started dishing imaginary passes to imaginary teammates on the imaginary ice.
“I’m excited,” Green said to me. “It’s a blessing to get these things back in my hands. I appreciate the people who brought them today. Hopefully it’ll bring some goals.”
I asked Green to get nerdy with me about why he loved these particular twigs so much. He said it was all about balance.
“I don’t know if it was the manufacturing or what, but it just made for a really good stick,” Green said. “Over the years, maybe they changed the technology or the balance and it’s just not the same. For me, these are perfect.”
Since the Columbus game in which he re-debuted his Stealth, Green had used the stick only in important situations. The game before we visited, Green hadn’t used the stick at all. Had it broken?
“No, I’ve been preserving it,” Green said. “Now that I have a couple more, I can be more aggressive with it. Last game I saved it, just in case I couldn’t get any others.”
As an artist, I sympathize with Green. Without the right pencil, micron, or brush, I just didn’t feel comfortable during a project. I could use something else, probably do almost as good, but I never thought I was doing my best work when I had inferior tools.
Hockey players are notoriously superstitious. Green’s 31-goal season seven years ago was magical. Even though the coaches and systems have changed– as well as Green’s age and ice time– he believes the stick can make him a more dangerous player. Instantly.
“Confidence is everything in sports,” he said. “That’s all it is, really. Having that feel and that confidence in your stick makes a big difference. As much as you wouldn’t think so, it does.”
Since acquiring the sticks on Sunday morning, Green has had offensive success.
That night against Boston, Green recorded a season high in shots, putting seven on Tuukka Rask. On Monday, Green scored for the first time since January 28th, ending a personal 20-game goalless streak.
Mike Green scores with the Stealth pic.twitter.com/zJEPyO3nU9
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 17, 2015
Maybe the stick is that good.
But here’s the key takeaway: for the rest of the season, Green will be playing with sticks donated by his biggest fans. Maybe there will be a lot of goals in those sticks; we don’t know. But we do know there’s a lot of love in them.
Photos: Chris Gordon
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