The retired heroes of Washington Capitals' teams past walked by on their way to the locker rooms like a parade of memories. Don Beaupre. Calle Johansson. Mike Gartner, carrying a Toronto Maple Leafs equipment bag. Mark Lofthouse, who wore No. 8 before it was cool. Peter Bondra. The list went on and on.
For anyone that grew up on these names, these players, it was a thrill seeing them at all, let alone a couple hours later when they took the ice wearing those familiar uniforms with the stars down the sleeves and pant legs.
Hey, wasn't that Ron Lalonde?
In the end, Team Langway defeated Team Laughlin 5-4, but it wasn't without a scramble at the end when Laughlin, now a broadcaster for the team, pulled goalie Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt for an extra skater in an effort to tie it up.
"Yeah, we had seven guys on the ice there for a while because I didn't think six was enough to try to tie it," Locker said, "And plus I knew [Referee Bill] McCreary wasn't gonna see it anyway."
"But I thought it was great. You know what it is though, I really wanted to win -- badly -- cause I hate to lose, plus I hated to lose to Langway. But, in the big scheme of things, the fans, the hype, and seriously, that's what it's all about. They're all guys that have played here before that are excited to get back to the community anyway they can and we think the alumni can be a big part of the community in building even a bigger Washington Capitals network. So, I thought it was terrific."
Peter Bondra talked about how the competitive fires took over late in the close game. "No matter what, hockey players say, 'We'll take it easy,' but in the end everybody wants to try to win the game. When the game got tied up, there was hooking going on, tripping, slashing. You can't hold back, you just go 100 percent and have fun
Did you see John Druce?
The youngest alumni that dressed for the game was Leonhardt, the team's web producer for four years. "Stretch" also suited up for practice on occasion as an extra goalie, and famously dressed for one NHL game on a special one-day contract when the Caps had an injury at the position and couldn't get a backup up from the minors by the time the game started.
"When they asked me I couldn't believe there wasn't someone else that's been here a long time as a Capital that was available,"Leonhardt said before the game. "I knew there were a lot of injuries and guys that didn't play anymore, so I don't know, I was obviously really excited. Even though I'm not really an alumni, I was part of the organization for four years, so it's cool. So I'm so excited."
Was it all he thought it would be? "Better. No matter how slow a guy looks or how old he looks, their hand/eye [coordination out there, their vision on the ice out there was incredible. If they've lost a step, it doesn't matter. They were professional hockey players at one time in their life and they know where to be on the ice and it was a pleasure to be out there, for sure."
Look, it's Dennis Maruk!
Several alumni that played last night also played at the Caps/Penguins alumni game that was part of the Winter Classic last New Year's. Goalie Don Beaupre was one of those players, and he said he had not put his pads on for nine years before that and hadn't put them back on until last night."
I was at the Winter Classic and that was a lot of fun, so it was easy to say yes and come back here and play with these guys," Beaupre said from the winning locker room. "Some guys that weren't there New Year's were here today so it was fun to see the guys still play. It was pretty impressive, some of those guys can still go. Just a fun night all around."
Yvon Labre can still bring it!
One of the highlights of the event was when Alan May -- one time NHL tough guy now team broadcaster -- and Kevin "Killer" Kaminski dropped the mitts at center ice just before the face-off to start the third period. The pair appeared to be really going at it for the benefit of the fans, but spent much of the fight punching each other in the shoulders. But a few punches at least grazed each other's face, as they were both bloodied after the bout.
"Oh yeah, he hit me about three times," Kaminski said afterwards, smiling. "We were just supposed to throw over the shoulder but he hit me a few times, but that's the way it goes. We're both that kind of same player -- competitive, do anything it takes for your teammates. It was a lot of fun, I had a blast out there. It was great to come back and see everybody again, and it was a great crowd to put on a little show for them."
Kaminski also addressed the size of the crowd for the alumni game, which rivaled the size of some of the crowds he played in front of during his active days. "This town is crazy about the Caps. What a great move, to move to the building down here [Verizon Center]. The sea of red, you know, unleash the fury, all that stuff. It's absolutely amazing the way it's caught on down here."
Bondra noted the crowd as well. "It's great for fans. I saw a lot of my jerseys [in the stands], a lot of Rod Langway jerseys. So it's good to see those people get a chance to come here and see us doing this and good for the Caps to have us here."
Ken Sabourin looks like he could still play.
Mike Gartner, recently elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and just the fifth member of the 700-goal club, was delighted to see so many of his old teammates. "It was really good for me personally. There's some guys there that I haven't seen for 15 years. So it's really good to get connected again and we're gonna go out after to a restaurant and just kind of try and catch up. It's really a lot of fun."
When I remarked to Gartner that he still had his "wheels", he replied, "Well, not completely. But there still something there."
There was still "something there" in all of those players last night. And for the fans assembled, seeing them one more time like that was a fond and nostalgic trip down memory lane, and a great way to get fired up for the return of today's heroes and the new season.