The Washington Capitals may have discovered their next big star last night… and she’s wearing heels!
With temperatures near 70 degrees outside, more than 250 members of the Scarlet Caps, the team’s women’s fan club, filed into the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington where the air was much more seasonable -- two huge hockey rinks will do that. The chill did little to cool their spirits, however, for this was a special night for everyone involved.
Caps defensemen Nate Schmidt is used to facing off against overgrown rivals from the Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers. But staring down an opponent wearing makeup and yoga pants is something new. That’s the whole point of the annual Hockey ’n Heels event. It gives some of the team’s biggest fans the unique opportunity to share the ice with the guys they cheer on each night.
After receiving instruction on goaltending and face-offs, the Scarlet Caps -- heels and all, -- joined Schmidt and teammates Brett Connolly, Philipp Grubauer, and Daniel Winnik for a fierce game of broomball (think hockey with brooms and a mini medicine ball). Given that the guys do this for living you might assume that they’d take it easy out there, but you’d assume wrong. Of course, if you asked Schmidt he’d tell you that they had it coming.
“The girls were chirping at me right off the bat,” he said. “They were saying for me to bring my ‘A’ game and they weren’t going to let me score.”
The taunts lit a fire under the 25-year-old who began playing with the same intensity as if he were skating against Sidney Crosby. If you’re unfamiliar, Crosby is a Penguins player who holds the distinction of being the most hated foe among Caps fans. Naturally, anytime Schmidt is facing off against “Cindy”, it’s on like Donkey Kong.
“I was leaking a little bit after the second game,” Schmidt said with a smile. “I had a good sweat going.”
It’s not hard to imagine why. He spent the night jumping from one rink to another, playing in two games simultaneously while never quite aligning himself with any particular team. He was mercilessly taking shots against any goaltender in sight. And after each goal, he would celebrate as if he just won the Stanley Cup. There was high-stepping, stick-raising, loud screaming and board banging. Such theatrics had his opponents doubled over with laughter.
“It was nice to see some of the personality come out that doesn’t really come out [during a game], because they’re focused on one thing,” said Deloris Hagan. “It was nice getting to watch them be a little goofy instead of the ‘let’s go kill people’ kind of thing.”
Goofy or not, Schmidt’s competitive drive raised the bar for a lot of the women getting a once in a lifetime opportunity. In fact, one of the undeniable facts learned at the event was that women are serious hockey competitors. Schmidt thinks a few of them might even have what it takes to make it in the pros.
“We had people diving all over the place and goalies eating pucks with their face. It was amazing,” he laughed.
A poor Capitals staffer was among those to take a "puck" to the head. The problem is she wasn’t really expecting it. Heck, she wasn’t even on the ice! Perhaps one of the women had just freshly trash talked Schmidt, because all the sudden, a friendly game of broomball suddenly became a game seven type of moment.
“It was going really well until one of the women in the marketing department was walking by," Schmidt recalled. "I decided to really hit the ball hard because we were down a couple goals. But I sailed it really high and hit her in the back of the head on the bench. Other than that it was a flawless day.”
As for the second undeniable fact? Ice is slippery. Crazy slippery. Plenty of women took a spill and they weren’t alone. Some of the players also lost their footing a few times. Despite the event’s name, Schmidt joked about lobbying for a no-heels policy and maybe some elbow pads.
But some women with tight-rope like balancing skills showed no mercy for their wobbly competitors and are staunchly opposed to modifying the event.
“I had a great time. Luckily, I didn’t fall, even in the heels,” fan club member Melina Ford said.
However, for those who did take a tumble and kiss the ice, Schmidt’s suggestion is right on the money. Even those who wore sneakers are good-humoredly calling for a name change. It is Hockey ’n Heels after all.
Said Kristin Walker: “Maybe they should call it Slapstick and Lipstick.”