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Summer filled with Cup days leave Capitals in disbelief: 'It was surreal'

BY BRIAN MCNALLY | OCT. 3, 2018

CAPITALS ICEPLEX — The Stanley Cup had a busy summer.

Alex Ovechkin ate caviar out of it. Nicklas Backstrom took it for a boat ride on the Baltic Sea. T.J. Oshie poured Cap’n Crunch into the bowl. Brett Leonhardt salted the rim and made the world’s greatest Margaritas. Dmitry Orlov, refusing to be topped by anyone, anywhere, ever, brought the Cup to a private party greeted by what appeared to be flamethrowers. Even his teammates were impressed.

The Cup returns to the District on Wednesday night when the Capitals finally, after 45 years, entering their 44th season, raise a championship banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena when the 2018-19 season begins against the Boston Bruins.

It will be an emotional night that marks the end of a memorable, celebratory summer. The Cup is like an old friend to them now. More than fifty members of the organization, from players and coaches to equipment managers and scouts to executives and trainers, took their turn playing host to the trophy for one day.

“It was surreal,” Washington assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said of his day with the Stanley Cup on July 29 in his native Regina, Saskatchewan. “I’ll be honest, I have to pinch myself still.”

Mahoney was as much a part of building a championship roster as anyone. He started as the Capitals’ director of amateur scouting in 1997, oversaw a complete rebuild before the Ovechkin era kicked into high gear a decade ago and Mahoney and his staff drafted 12 players who appeared in the decisive Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 7. It takes a village to win a title.

Mahoney averages about 240 nights a year on the road scouring the planet for players with his staff. He goes to Europe as often as eight times a season. He watches high school, junior and college games all over Canada and the United States. So Mahoney reveled in a Cup day that featured rare moments of peace, including a post-sunset sing-a-long around a fire in his backyard in Regina featuring musician friends playing country music.

“Really nice way to end the night,” Mahoney said.

No one at his party tried a Cup stand, that ubiquitous combination of a handstand while drinking that became of staple of Capitals’ Stanley Cup celebrations. Mahoney said that was for the best. His 88-year-old mother, Jean, might have been game. This is a woman who parasailed at 84, after all.

One month later, on Aug. 29, it was Blaine Forsythe’s turn. Like Mahoney, Forsythe has been around. He’s seen some things.

“Too much,” Forsythe joked.

He started as video coach in 2006, moved behind the bench in 2013 and is entering his 13th season in Washington, now working for his sixth head coach in Todd Reirden. Forsythe, too, felt the emptiness of one early playoff exit after another, no different than Ovechkin or Backstrom or defenseman John Carlson.

A Canadian, Forsythe made the most American of gestures on his Cup day. He took the trophy to Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims allegedly landed the Mayflower 398 years ago.

Forsythe’s wife, Ivy, is a Plymouth native and the couple spends much of the summer there on Boston’s south shore. As far as anyone knows, this was a first visit for Stanley – though Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan only lives 20 minutes up the road in Marshfield, Mass. and had his own Cup days in 2016 and 2017.

The Cup has a pull on people. As Forsythe was carrying it back to his car from Plymouth Rock another car passed and the driver yelled out “What the hell? Is that the real thing?” He pulled over and suddenly a crowd formed at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday.  

Mahoney found the same thing. He hosted around 500 people at the Royal Regina Golf Club, but many stubbornly refused to believe it was the same Cup the Capitals skated around the ice June 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. When they found out otherwise, they wanted to touch it even more.

“It’s so magnetic, it’s unbelievable,” Mahoney said.

Not one, but two Capitals equipment managers – Craig ‘Woody” Leydig and Ray Straccia – took the Cup to a Wawa. Multiple players let their kids eat ice cream sundaes out of the bowl. There were dozens of “Cup stands” and former coach Barry Trotz rode with it on a horse.

There were emotional moments, too. Leydig, an Annapolis resident, spent part of his Cup day July 3 at the temporary offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, where a gunman murdered five people six days earlier. Capitals winger Jakub Vrana lost his grandmother, Jana, during the season. He spent part of his Cup day in the Czech Republic at her grave. Ovechkin did the same for his late brother, Sergei, who died after a car accident in 1995.

Mahoney’s father, John, passed away 23 years ago back when his son was just leaving a 17-year teaching and coaching career behind to take a full-time job as a scout with the Buffalo Sabres. Mahoney brought the Cup to his father’s grave, where his mother and sister were waiting. Jean, a staunch Catholic, was a little miffed at missing Mass that Sunday, but the Mahoneys took pictures of the Cup next to John’s headstone.

The best advice Mahoney and Forsythe received? Make time for yourself. Mahoney’s wife, Traci, insisted after the graveside visit that their family, including son, Michael, and daughter, Caitie, spend an hour with the Cup by themselves taking pictures and enjoying it together. That proved wise. After that Mahoney was off to the downtown YMCA, where he works out when he’s home in Regina, to show the trophy to “the old guys” as he called his friends. He moved on to the golf course and then back to the house for the evening festivities in the backyard.

Forsythe also spent the morning on the golf course with the Cup riding shotgun in his cart. He then raced over to a friend’s bar for a charity event to raise money for the Plymouth Youth Foundation, which is building children’s playgrounds to help beautify the city before the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival, and To the Moon and Back, a charity that supports caregivers of babies born addicted to opioids. Like so much of the country, the drug epidemic has swept across Cap Cod and the South Shore.  

The event, with the Cup as the guest of honor, drew a steady crowd for two hours and raised about $6,000, according to Forsythe. He auctioned off morning skate passes and tickets to a Capitals-Bruins game, signed Capitals gear and some baseball items donated by Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton, a close friend.    

After the quick visit to Plymouth Rock, Forsythe and his family went to a friends’ house where there was a pool, trampolines for the kids and a big backyard. The intention was to invite 30 to 50 people. About 130 showed up. Such is the power of the Cup.

The whole experience left Forsythe exhausted. You want to show friends and family a good time while balancing your own precious moments with the Cup. Forsythe coached Stanley Cup champions Ryan Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd in junior hockey and he picked their brains for advice.   

“More nervous for that than my wedding to be honest with you,” Forsythe said. “I probably drank 30 beers throughout the day, but I guarantee I did not finish one of them. You take a couple of sips and put it down to take some pictures and then it’s gone. That 30 beers was equivalent to eight.”

The day started with cereal. Of course. Ivy Forsythe is big on healthy, organic, all natural foods. She watched in horror as her two-year-old son, Bodhi, scooped Lucky Charms out of the Cup and into his mouth. For a kid who had likely never had a non-organic ingredient in his life, the marshmallows were a big hit. She was not amused. But, hey – Washington winger Tom Wilson ate Lucky Charms out of the bowl, too. It happens.  

Back across the pond, former Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer rocked lederhosen during his Cup day in Rosenheim, Germany. Ovechkin walked the Cup through Red Square and Lars Eller brought the Cup to Denmark for the first time. Living things went into the Cup, including Carlson’s two-month-old son Rudy, assistant equipment manager Dave Marin’s daughter, Brynn, and Devante Smith-Pelly’s dog.

All good things must come to an end, though. Wednesday, the Cup will be cheered, the banner will be raised and the Capitals will begin another journey that has long odds of ending in a repeat. It’s the nature of the sport. It’s why even one day with the Stanley Cup means so much.    

“It’s incredible to see the looks on people’s faces,” Forsythe said. “You have it for the whole day and it’s really cool, but you almost take it for granted. And then people walk in and they really don’t know what to do. ‘Should I touch it? ‘Should I not touch it?’ It’s amazing what that trophy does to people.”

Brian McNally is a senior staff writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He is also an award-winning multi-media journalist, who has covered the Redskins, Capitals and Nationals for the Washington Examiner, Washington Times and 106.7 The Fan and major events like the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA playoffs, NFL Combine and NFL Draft.

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