ARLINGTON, Va. — Stanley Cup-winning teams often worry about a championship hangover; a long, taxing playoff run can manifest with a slow start the following season.
The Washington Capitals started training camp Friday fielding questions about an actual hangover. After all, since the moment captain Alex Ovechkin carried the Stanley Cup through the lobby of the MGM Casino after the Capitals clinched in Las Vegas, social media has been flooded with photos and reports of Washington players enjoying themselves, in what has felt like a nonstop boozy binge.
The Capitals? They’re not as fazed.
“I mean, if we go down in history that we partied a little too hard that’s fine,” winger T.J. Oshie told ESPN. “To us it doesn’t really matter. We got a Cup.”
From splashing in the Georgetown Waterfront fountains (fully clothed) to helping Jimmy Fallon do a keg stand from the Stanley Cup on late-night TV to Oshie chugging a beer — through his shirt — on stage at the parade, the Capitals have soaked in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. It was also the city of Washington’s first championship since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992.
“The four days of celebrating after we won, it’s not a blur, but they all just blend together,” winger Devante Smith-Pelly said.
Asked if fans might be disappointed to find out the team didn’t actually drink the entire summer, veteran forward Brett Connolly added: “Well, don’t get me wrong, guys were enjoying themselves well after we got home. You’ve got to enjoy the good times in your life because it’s not always like that.”
The Capitals went through a traditional Day 1 conditioning skate test Friday, and it didn’t appear any players failed.
“Maybe they didn’t have enough time to get out of shape,” general manager Brian MacLellan said.
Chatter, however, surrounded Ovechkin’s physique. Players and management mentioned how refreshed he looked — even after a summer during which he was supposedly partying the whole time.
“He actually looks a little bit leaner than he has in a while,” MacLellan said. “He looks like he’s in a good place mentally.”
Added linemate Tom Wilson: ” It was a tough day, but he looks good and he’s moving well.”
That’s impressive considering reports of the Capitals’ summer celebrations.
They got to a point where the keeper of the Cup, Philip Pritchard, said earlier this month that they’re considering banning keg stands for future winners after the Capitals abused the trophy a bit too much doing them.
By the time Smith-Pelly had his day with the Cup on Aug. 6, he could already notice the damage.
“I couldn’t hold it from the inside,” Smith-Pelly said. “Whoever was before me, or a couple people before me, had damaged it, so I had to hold from a weird angle the whole time.”
But players are a bit defensive that they are different than any previous winner. Oshie said fans would constantly ask him to drink beers through his shirt over the summer — and he’d oblige.
“(But) that’s the only beer I’d drink that day,” Oshie said. “You only see that one snapshot and think that’s all that we’ve been doing.
“I don’t think [we partied] too hard. I think maybe it was more documented than some of the other teams that have won it in the past. Everyone’s got a camera, everyone’s got a video, or phone in their pocket now. And we weren’t shy about letting people celebrate with us.”
Wilson offered an even more passionate defense.
“I mean if people say we partied too much, first I’d like to defend ourselves,” Wilson said. “Hockey is such a tough sport. Guys truly give it their all to win the Cup. When it comes down to it, guys don’t care about the money in the playoffs — the bonuses and all of that doesn’t matter. It’s about winning a championship with your teammates, and once you do, you get to celebrate with your teammates. We did everything as a group. If one guy made a fool of himself, we weren’t going to let him do that alone. It was all harmless. The city loved it. We have passionate fans, and we weren’t doing it behind closed doors. That’s what the fans will always remember, that’s what the city will always remember. It was a ton of fun, and anyone who is upset about that well, there’s something wrong with them.”
Connolly has a theory for why Washington got so much media attention over the summer.
“Our captain [Ovechkin] is a one-of-the-kind, generational player and personality, so I think the media really jumped on that,” Connolly said. “We have a really fun team. We were just having fun.”
The Capitals have felt some effects of a short summer. Center Lars Eller, who scored the Cup-winning goal, and No. 1 defenseman John Carlson did not practice Friday. Both are day-to-day with lower-body injuries. Neither injury is believed to be serious, new coach Todd Reirden said.
On the first day of camp last year, Ovechkin stated his goal for the season: “We’re not going to be suck.”
When asked his message for 2018-19, Ovechkin said: “Not suck back to back.”