Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green stood at his locker following the Caps' 5-3 victory over the New York Islanders, in which Green netted two third-period goals to become only the eighth NHL defenseman in history to score 30 in a season.
Joining the record books was motivation enough, but there was something else on the line for Green. "I promised my buddy back home I'd get them tonight," he told reporters, dropping the name of his childhood friend from Calgary, Kyle Lieske. "I was talking with him before the game and I just promised him I'd get the two tonight. His fantasy pool is struggling."
"We're always joking around at home that he has to drop a name, but he never does," said Lieske, 24, who suddenly found himself mentioned everywhere from the Associated Press to the Washington Post this morning.
While his primary responsibilities are with the division-leading Capitals, Green is now also a vital cog in "Superheroes," Lieske's fantasy hockey team that's competing in the playoffs. He wasn't at first; Lieske said that Green went too high in the preseason draft for him to select the defenseman, but that a playoff "re-draft" allowed him to add his friend-turned-NHL star to the roster. "I told him that I took a chance and drafted him, so he better not let me down," he said.
Hours before the game, Green and Lieske were messaging on Facebook when Green vowed to score two goals to increase his old friend's fantasy championship chances; a vow that morphed into a friendly wager between the two.
"I told him dinner would be on me if he did it. If not, he's got an Escalade truck that I wanted to buy, so I told him the price better drop if he didn't [score]," said Lieske.
With that, Green was off to play for the Capitals and his former Bantam AAA and Midget AAA hockey teammate was off to a men's league game. The last Capitals score Lieske heard was 2-0 in favor of the Islanders; he tried to find an update while heading home. Then Green sent him a text message on his cell phone: "I won the bet."
"I guess I owe him dinner," said Lieske.
While it wasn't Babe Ruth promising a sick child a home run, Green's goals for his fantasy hockey friend were a topic of conversation after the game when Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau held his press conference.
"Whatever gets it going, I guess," he said, laughing when told of Green's promise to Lieske.
"That's good, I hope he has a couple more friends that are struggling in their fantasy hockey clubs."
Lieske said he's known Green since they were 12 years old, playing hockey together and growing up amongst the same group of friends. That dynamic hasn't changed much over the years, even as Green advanced to the NHL and became a star defenseman, earning a four-year, $21 million contract extension last summer. They still hang out when Green's back home in Alberta, still play some hockey together when they can.
"All the guys back home that didn't make it ... we're always giving him the gears, and he's always level-headed about it," said Lieske. "He's still the same Mike. He's just on the TV all the time. And he won't let anyone pay [the tab], which is really nice."
Growing up, Lieske said Green's potential as an NHL star wasn't necessarily evident. "He was never that head-and-shoulders above everyone else, but he had the drive to make it," he said. "We all knew he was something special, but didn't know he'd be that good."
Boudreau, who coached Green in the AHL before taking over the Capitals last season, agreed.
"I knew he could skate," he said. "I never knew he had the offensive capabilities that he has. He has grown so much as a player -- his puck-handling, his confidence. Sometimes it comes and bites him because he's so casual, thinking he can deke out everybody. But when he's on, he's pretty good to watch."
Green leads all NHL defenseman in scoring with 70 points, and is expected to fill one of the three finalist spots for the Norris Trophy for best defenseman. The NHL Awards are shifting to Las Vegas this summer; Green experienced the shock and awe of Sin City for the first time last summer.
"I could only go there for a couple days. I went there too long last year," he said, adding he's love to have a reason to go again.
Green has already added his name to the likes of NHL legends Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey with his dynamic offensive season. Winning the Norris would be a dramatic next step to elite status for the 23-year-old player.
Of course, Lieske would be happy if Green can just keep his fantasy team in championship contention.
"Those guys get to live the dream every day," he said. "We're just doing it over the computer."