ARLINGTON, Va. – Fans crowded a metal staircase at Kettler Capitals IcePlex on Tuesday, clad in various hockey jerseys and shirts, memorabilia in hand. Behind two opaque glass doors was a table with two chairs, eventually filled with two U.S. Olympic hockey hopefuls.
But the fans had no idea who they’d see when those doors opened.
For $40 for adults and $30 for children, this might prove either exhilarating or frustrating, but such is life at U.S. Olympic camp in Arlington, Va., where 48 NHL players gathered this week to meet their coaches, each other and begin the road to the Sochi 2014 Games.
For the price of admission to what’s usually the Washington Capitals’ practice facility, fans received a really nice looking USA Hockey scarf; the chance to skate in the arena; a Wounded Warrior hockey game; and the debut of the 2014 USA Hockey jerseys in an on-ice presentation that includes player introductions.
Oh, and an autograph from “two of the very best players in the United States,” according to the fan handout, which noted the organizers “cannot guarantee access to specific players” for autographs. Fans attended the sessions as designated by a specific Spectator Group. They had no idea who they'd meet. It was all very Comic-Con.
“That’s fine, considering their schedules,” said Jon Cooper of Oakton, Va., who brought his four and eight year old boys to the event.
When the doors opened at 9 a.m., which players were Cooper and the other fans were greeted by? Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks, and Trevor Lewis of the Los Angeles Kings. (Later groups would include such pairings as Erik Johnson and Alex Galchenyuk.)
One young fan wearing a Michigan Wolverines hat hoped to meet Jack Johnson of the Blue Jackets. Instead he met Kesler, who … went to Ohio State. But hey, he was born in Michigan.
John Janda of New Jersey, wearing a Team USA jersey, knew Kesler.
“I don’t know who the other guy was,” he admitted.
Trevor Lewis. Stanley Cup champion with the Kings.
“Oh,” said Janda, “the guy who beat the Devils.”
Autograph roulette aside, Janda echoed the thoughts of many of the fans at the Public Day” at U.S. Olympic camp: It was just good to be back around hockey, and around the players that will represent the country in the 2014 Winter Games.