Several Washington Capitals players past and present made their way out to Calvert County, Maryland for a very special cause on Saturday.
Prince Frederick Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram hosted its 10th annual Toys4Tots drive. The event, which NBC Sports Washington’s Craig Laughlin puts his heart and time into every year, saw Nicklas Backstrom, Bobby Carpenter, Karl Alzner, and John Walton all come out to sign autographs and take photos with fans. Courtney and Linda Laughlin also graciously donated their time to help gather toys and help the event run smoothly.
Hundreds of fans could be seen milling about when the autograph signing began at 1 pm.
“We are so thankful to our community for answering the call to preserve some Christmas magic for those children that would otherwise have nothing on Christmas morning,” Dee Aud, PFCJDR comptroller and event coordinator, said to me. “We are especially grateful for our amazing partnership with the Washington Capitals team members who come out every year to support our Toys4Tots drive and help make this so successful.”
Backstrom, who is widely considered to be the second-greatest Capitals player ever, was the headliner despite not playing at all this season due to hip surgery. Backstrom skated at MedStar Capitals Iceplex the morning beforehand and then drove an hour to make the event. Backstrom flashed a big smile as he was announced to the crowd.
Laughlin arrived with former teammate Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter was the NHL’s first high school player to ever jump directly to the league in his draft year. The “Can’t Miss Kid” spent 18 seasons in the NHL, playing 1,178 games for the Capitals, Rangers, Kings, Bruins, and Devils. His career-best season came during the 1984-85 season when he scored 53 goals for the Capitals – fourth-most in team history. Carpenter flew down to Massachusetts to be a part of the event and later attended the Capitals-Avalanche game with Laughlin.
As we milled about outside beforehand, I told Carpenter that I first learned about who he was and how good of a hockey player he was through one of my NES hockey games when I was in elementary school.
“What’s an NES?” he asked in his strong Boston accent.
“Oh, my bad. The Nintendo!” I replied.
“Oh gosh,” he replied breaking up in laughter.
Bobby went on to reveal that he played as himself in NHL 22 — alumni players were a part of that game — along with his son and daughter and found it really cool.
Before the event started, Laughlin had everyone sign Happy Birthday to Dee, who was celebrating her birthday on November 20th. He surprised her by bringing out a large cake that had lit candles on it. It spoke to how kind and thoughtful Laughlin is despite being a former NHL player and one of the most popular Capitals legends of all time.
For fans to get autographs, all they had to do was either donate $20 or one unwrapped toy. Players were only supposed to sign one autograph per person, but that rule was widely discarded as they all graciously signed anything and everything put in front of them. Each player had postcards to sign if a fan didn’t have an item.
Nicklas Backstrom had his first opportunity to sign a Reverse Retro 2.0 jersey and also inked up some 1,000-point foam apples – a giveaway at Capital One Arena last year celebrating his biggest individual accomplishment to date.
One of the sweetest exchanges that happened occurred when Keelan Moxley approached the players with her parents. Moxley, better known as the Brett Connolly puck girl, was instantly remembered by everyone at the table. Backstrom was also very familiar with her as he had watched her play at the St. James while at the rink for his son Vince.
“She’s a really good player,” Backstrom remarked to me.
Backstrom signed a warmup puck Keelan received from Game 5 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018.
Laughlin made sure to come over and give Keelan a hug as well.
Former Capitals defenseman, Karl Alzner, had a blast as he was asked to sign cards and jerseys. He got particularly pumped when a fan came in line wearing his jersey.
“This is exciting,” he said with one of his patented huge Karl smiles. I made sure to get a picture for documentation purposes.
Karl also smirked when he signed a Pinnacle card that was labeled one of his, but the picture was of Matt Hendricks.
“I laugh every time when I see this card,” Alzner said.
The radio voice of the Capitals, John Walton, had a huge smile when he was asked to autograph a microphone from a fan.
“Yes, I will absolutely sign this,” Walton said.
The line also stopped when Backstrom autographed a dog wearing a Capitals jersey. Many photos were taken.
While meeting the players brought great joy that day to the Capitals fans who attended, the event was really about how the dealership could help children in need. Kids who would otherwise receive no presents during the holiday season will now have gifts as fancy as all their friends.
“We had 246 people come through and had three fully packed trucks of toy donations,” Dee said. “15 of these were bicycles. We also collected $1540.00 which we are going to go out and purchase items to donate for the older ones that they have between the ages of 13 to 17 and find some items that would be more appropriate for their age levels.”
Laughlin made sure to bring his guests outside to appreciate just how much was donated.
What might have summed up Laughlin’s incredible kindness the most was at the very end of the event when he was rushing out the door to make it on time for the Capitals-Avalanche game that he was serving as the color commentator for. A fan, who had driven up from the state of Florida, missed out on the signing by about 30 minutes. Heartbroken, he had a pair of game-used hockey pants of Backstrom’s that he wanted signed. Laughlin texted Backstrom and the Capitals center said he’d sign the item at the arena. It was one of those moments that felt so above and beyond.
“I had to,” Laughlin said. “He drove up from Florida!”
I asked Locker if he had anything he wanted to say to the fans who made it out.
“Thank you to everyone who came out to support Toys4Tots,” Laughlin told me. “The response we got this year was overwhelming and I’m so appreciative. I think we are going to make a lot of kids smile over the holidays. And a special shout-out to all the guys who signed autographs and took the time to talk to fans. Your enthusiasm meant so much to everyone that came out.
“And of course, Prince Frederick Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, thank you for another great event at your dealership. You always give so much back to the DMV.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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