Capitals rookie Madison Bowey on role model Willie O'Ree, camaraderie with Alex Ovechkin

Capitals rookie defenseman Madison Bowey wears No. 22 in honor of Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL's color barrier 60 years ago. Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Washington Capitals rookie Madison Bowey and his father, Will, are sitting outside the visitors locker room at the United Center in Chicago. It's the team's annual mentor's trip and this is city No. 3 together. Just as the 22-year-old defenseman begins a sentence, a booming voice echoes through the hallway: "My mannnnnn!" Bowey starts to giggle. His father looks confused. "My mannnnnn!" the voice shouts again. "There he is!"

That voice belongs to Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who strolls by on his way to the team bus.

Madison Bowey says that these exchanges with Ovechkin happen often. As he explains this, Will Bowey gives his son a tender look. Imagine how cool it is to see your son not only make it in the NHL, but have one of the world's most famous players like him enough to have a regular shtick with him?

Trips like these have become ubiquitous in the NHL. Madison Bowey, who grew up in Manitoba, made his NHL debut on Oct. 14 when he was called up after defenseman Matt Niskanen went on injured reserve. Bowey has been a regular in the Capitals' lineup ever since. For Will Bowey, spending four days on the road with his son offered a peek into his new life but also a chance to reflect on how far they both have come. Madison is one of about 30 black players in the NHL, an opportunity that his father had only dreamed about while growing up in Canada. They reflected on that, and more, in an interview with ESPN.

On missing his son's NHL debut:

Will Bowey: Of course Madison was called up within 24 hours, 12 hours or something like that. A really quick turnaround. So we had arranged for me to fly in, because the goal was for me to watch his first NHL game. And then I got held up in New York, so I didn't make the game. Didn't even get the chance to watch it [on TV] either. The plane landed late at JFK. I had a car booked, but because I ran late, they gave my car away. The car that was available was too expensive for me. So I tried to figure if I could add a little bit more on my credit card. But the payment didn't go through, so I couldn't get the car that was a little bit more -- and I didn't make it there.

On what they've learned about each other on the road:

Madison Bowey: I don't think there's much to learn. But just seeing how happy he is and how proud he is, is pretty cool. It's also pretty cool for the dads to get a chance to bond together, [especially given] the sacrifices they made for us to be where we are today. I think it's nice for them to share.

Will Bowey: What I love about him is that he's a good man, he works hard, he's here for a reason. I'm very proud of him. I'm proud of his work ethic, his team play. His personality is great. What I've learned is that most of the people in the Washington Capitals organization believe the same thing. So it makes me proud to be his father.

On the costs of raising an NHL player:

Will Bowey: I cannot estimate and I do not even want to. All I know is that, whatever money was spent, he had a dream at a young age and seemed to have the talent to accomplish that dream. So I just wanted to make sure that could happen. If you wanted to put a value on it, I'd say I probably could have a cabin somewhere in Hawaii right now [with the money he spent] ... but everything is worth it. Worth every penny.

On racial progress in the NHL:

Madison Bowey: Willie O'Ree was a guy who inspired all of us African-Americans and African-Canadians. Without him, we wouldn't be where we are today, or it would have taken a few years to get where we are today. Obviously, it was a lot tougher when my dad was growing up, but it's come a long way and it can still develop. But the goal for myself and most of the African-Canadians or Americans playing in this league right now is to make it more diverse. There are a lot more women playing hockey. There are a lot more [people] of different cultures playing. All over the world, people are taking hold of the game. This game is very special; it's a great way to bring people together. It just needs to keep improving.

Will Bowey: When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I was 10 years old. I spoke to my principal and I said, "I'm going to be the first black NHL hockey player." And he said, "Well, someone beat you already. And it's Willie O'Ree." So he became my hero -- even though I haven't met him. But he's always been an inspiration for me and for Madison.

On opportunities:

Will Bowey: I played some junior hockey up in Canada, and I went on to play in Germany, and loved it. It was a chance for me to actually play professional hockey. So I guess you could say I achieved my dream, but not at an NHL level. When I was playing, I was going to games by bus -- not by airplane. Our accommodations certainly weren't as nice as the NHL. But it's the same thing, you're going from one game to another, enjoying something that you love to do. Also now [being around the NHL players] I can speak English instead of German.

On lessons from dad:

Madison Bowey: Respect the game as much as you can and never lose the love and the fun of the game. Obviously you want to win, and I'm a pretty competitive guy, and that's the main focus. But, growing up, the main thing my dad taught me was to always have fun. Once that fun kind of runs out, that's when you lose the love of the game. My dad always built a backyard rink, and that's where I found the love and the passion for the game. It's a dream come true this year, playing in the NHL. I just can't wait to keep going.