They came to pay homage to the Stanley Cup Friday and the Cup came to pay homage to them.
Lord Stanley, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, and team owner Ted Leonsis journeyed to D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood to show off the National Hockey League championship trophy to players and supporters of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club – the oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program in North America.
It was sweltering hot inside the Fort Dupont Ice Arena – the ice is off for summer maintenance – but no one cared as players and coaches from the team lined up for photos with Ovechkin and the Cup.
“It feels good and special,” Justus Tyree, a 10-year-old Fort Dupont forward, told me. “They (the Capitals) won and they get to bring the Cup for our organization and not the other organizations that practice here. It’s very cool.”
U.S. Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, a Fort Dupont assistant coach, was all smiles after he posed for a photo with Ovechkin, Fort Dupont founder and Head Coach Neal Henderson and the Cup.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 15, 2018
“It’s awesome, I thought I’d never be able to do that,” Featherstone said. “They (the Capitals) are at the top of the world right now and they took time to hang out with us for a few minutes. Ovi brought the Cup, Ted Leonsis is here. The owner of the team is in Southeast D.C., at Fort Dupont, hanging out.”
Leonsis said Fort Dupont was a must-do stop for the Cup.
“We love coming to Fort Dupont,” he said. “Neal has just been such a bedrock in the community and we love working with him, supporting the rink. And just to see all the young kids here in awe to meet Alex and the Cup.”
“For [fans], it’s maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be around it.” — Alex Ovechkin on taking the #StanleyCup around Washington. Today, the Cup made stops at @ArlingtonVaPD, @MedStarGUH and Fort Dupont Ice Arena. #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/Zn4tKEUN3l
— Tarik El-Bashir⌨️🎙🏒 (@TarikNBCS) June 15, 2018
The Fort Dupont rink may look ordinary on the outside and a little dog-eared inside, but it’s a special place. For 43, years Henderson has taught life lessons to hundreds of African-American kids there through the prism of hockey.
It’s also one of the area rinks where 18-year-old Maame Biney, the first black female to make the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team, got her start.
Several of Henderson’s pupils have gone on to achieve what they once thought was unachievable growing up in an area that had a reputation as one of the District of Columbia’s toughest neighborhoods.
Duante Abercrombie, another Fort Dupont alum, is following in Henderson’s footsteps into head coaching. He recently was named bench boss for the Washington Little Capitals U16 National Team, a program that has a track record for developing players for college and major junior hockey.
Leonsis said he hopes to bring the Cup back to Fort Dupont for a celebration same time next year.
But folks at the rink are hoping that they’ll have an occasion to party sooner. Henderson is one of three finalists for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas Wednesday.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.