2015 Winter Classic: Transforming the Nationals' locker room for Capitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It’s late in the day and darkness is falling over Nationals Park and the glistening rink upon which an NHL game will be played in less than 48 hours. And still, Brock Myles is in motion.

This has been the case since the early hours of the day for the Washington Capitals' equipment manager and his crew as they prepare for what might be their biggest professional challenge: making a new home for the Capitals in the completely foreign surroundings of a professional baseball park.

That means taking virtually every item that might be used for a hockey game, packing it up, loading it onto a truck and unloading it in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse.


Skates, laces, tape, coffee, cream, blades, sticks, deodorant, shampoo, gum.


What does an equipment manager and his crew -- which includes Craig "Woody" Leydig, Dave Marin and Ray Straccia -- do?

Well you start with everything and go from there.

What’s it like?

“A lot of pressure. A lot of pressure,” Myles said.

“There’s pressure because it’s a show every night and you have to be on your 'A' game with these guys all the time."

Players are like finely tuned automobiles, and Myles and his crew are the pit crew without whom success would be impossible to achieve.

While the Capitals are skating at their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Myles is boxing up everything from coat hangers to energy drinks to extra skate blades -- every size times two in case he needs to replace a player’s blades at a moment’s notice.

"What are you going to do, say, 'Coach, he can’t play because he doesn’t have a blade'?" Myles said.

This is the stuff of nightmares for an equipment manager and his staff.

Netminder Braden Holtby wanders into a room at the back of the Capitals’ practice facility to ask about some new pads he’s ordered.

Backup netminder Justin Peters is looking for a big needle and some thread to do a little repair work on some pants.

A new pair of skates needs to be heated in a special machine.

These are daily things, the rhythm of a professional hockey team.

But Myles and his crew are also trying to put the finishing touches on the move to Nationals Park.

The equipment manager breathes a sigh of relief when a shipment of specially designed Winter Classic skate guards arrives. They are piled in a bin in the Capitals’ locker room, and immediately after practice they're attached to skates and put in one of the many bags that will depart Arlington.

"This is the stuff that’s kept me up a lot of nights lately," Myles said.

Much of what will be moved has been special ordered with Winter Classic logos and designs, including the jerseys the team will use for their only practice at Nationals Park on Dec. 31 and, of course, the jerseys that will be worn for the game on Jan. 1.

Easy enough, right?

Not quite.

Each player will wear four jerseys during the game, and after the game they will be distributed to various groups -- including the NHL and NHLPA -- for charitable purposes.

That means preparing four sets of jerseys to each player’s specifications.

Alex Ovechkin, for instance, has three tie-downs on the inside of his jersey that attach to his pants.

Some players like a tapered cuff.

And so on.

And that doesn’t take into account the additional work if a player is called up due to an injury, which is a possibility given defenseman Brooks Orpik’s uncertain status after a hard hit taken on Monday seemed to injure his right knee.

Myles planned ahead and had jerseys made up for regular call-ups from the team’s AHL affiliate, but if it’s a new player, they’ll have to stitch a name and number on a Winter Classic jersey before game time.

Not long after practice, the service elevator at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex is clogged with boxes, plastic bins and wheeled carts waiting to be loaded onto one of two cargo trucks to be taken to Nationals Park.

Back in 2011, the Capitals were the visitors at the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Myles took a lot of mental notes, but being the host is a completely different beast from the equipment manager’s perspective. As the host, you aren’t just preparing for one team; you must prepare for the visitors and the officials as well.

Shampoo, sewing machines, riveting machines, frozen pucks -- all the things that the visiting team expects to have must be moved on this day.

“There’s a long list,” Myles said.

He’s not speaking metaphorically. He’s actually holding a long foolscap sheet of paper with all the things he and his crew need to take care of and is drawing a heavy black line through those words when each task is completed.

“We have to take everything,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights lately.”

It’s not just the everyday stuff, either.

Playing outdoors means teams have to be prepared for Mother Nature -- sun, wind, rain or snow.

Myles has ordered some cool sunglasses with a special logo. There are different undergarments that need to be prepared depending on which way the weather turns. There is eye black and tinted visors for the sun, hand warmers and insulated gloves for wearing inside hockey gloves.

All these things must be accounted for and be ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Myles announces that he’s taking a brief break for coffee, but he ends up chatting with a group visiting from Winnipeg who are helping to put up the Winter Classic signage at Nationals Park, so the coffee is for a time left on its own on the floor outside a storage room.

If packing a truck can be an art form, then the Capitals’ truck is the Mona Lisa.

You wouldn't think half of the boxes and bags -- including Holtby's, which is dubbed "the widow-maker" because of its gargantuan size and weight -- would fit. But almost all of them find their way in, with the few remaining left to make the trip with Leydig in his personal truck.

A quick trip past Pentagon City and into D.C., and the first part of the move is completed.

Forward Eric Fehr simply shakes his head when considering what the equipment staff is going through in preparing for Thursday’s game.

“They have a pretty tough job. You can tell they’re a little bit stressed out,” he added. “I think they’ll be the happiest people when this is over.”

A baseball clubhouse is a different place from a hockey locker room.

It looks different, more spacious, and in the case of the Nationals, more den-like, with dark wood appointments and small wooden bats adorning each stall.

Myles and his crew must transform this into something comfortable and familiar to a group of players who rely very much on routine and constancy.

Against a backdrop of country music, the metamorphosis is swift and dramatic.

The helmets flanked by the shin guards are put on the top shelf. The gloves, pants and special Winter Classic socks in the same place in every stall. The rows of sticks against one wall.

When the boys arrive on Wednesday, they will find everything in its place, as it always is at Verizon Center or any of the other 29 NHL rinks.

There also will be Winter Classic hoodies and toques, which Myles knows will be a big hit with the players.

“It’s going to be like Christmas morning for those players to go in and see what it’s like,” Myles said.

It’s late in the day and the nameplates have been installed, as has a big sign that reminds us that this is, at least for a couple of days, the home of the Washington Capitals.

This is an important event for the franchise. And given that this is a team still searching for its first Stanley Cup, it’s fair to say that this moment will be the biggest career test for Myles and his crew.

“It’s easily the biggest challenge,” he said. "Easily the highlight of my career was the first one."

And this is a whole other thing.

Then Myles is off again.

The truck bearing the Chicago Blackhawks’ gear has arrived, and the Caps’ equipment staff will be lending a hand to make their room look as cozy and inviting as they have made their own team’s locker room.