WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Troy Brouwer was asked what the Winter Classic meant to him, he smiled.
Yes, there has been a lot of hype around the game, and yes, it is “always special” to go up against his former team, the Blackhawks, with whom he played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago's Wrigley Field. But to the Washington Capitals right winger, it is an event that he personally has been looking forward to.
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On Thursday, Brouwer's father, Don, will get to see his son play in person in Washington D.C. for the first time since Troy was traded to the Capitals in 2011. Don, 67, suffered a stroke during the 2009-10 season while Troy was playing with Chicago and was hospitalized in Vancouver during the team's Stanley Cup run.
Brouwer’s parents live in Vancouver, and while Brouwer said they have gotten to see him play in person in Canada “a handful of times” since his dad’s stroke, those visits never feel long enough. His father hasn’t been able to travel a lot since his illness, and his only visit to Washington since the trade was for his granddaughter Kylie’s first birthday. Having his dad and mom, Kathy, in town for the big game against the Blackhawks means a lot to the whole family.
“My dad’s done a great job [with his rehabilitation], Brouwer said. “You don’t get a chance very often to tell your parents, but I’m very proud of what he’s been able to do, and his recovery. To have him here … he’s only been here once before for my daughter’s first birthday. And to be able to see family, see his granddaughter, and spend time with me and my wife and my daughter, it’s special to him. It’s special to my mom as well.
“Living in Vancouver, we don’t get to see them too often, and when we do, it’s only for a week or a couple of days. We want to have them in our lives and it’s just special to have them here around the holidays.”
While Brouwer is enjoying the time around the Winter Classic with his parents, he said he also appreciates the chance to share the experience with Kylie, who participated in the family skate that the Blackhawks held after their morning practice on Wednesday.
“It was only her third or fourth time on the ice,” Brouwer said. ”She loved it, she just likes it when you hold her and push her around the ice. She can stand up on the ice already, and she’s only two. She cried when she got off the ice.
“She has a lot of fun, and it’s fun for me, because whenever I leave the house she always says, ‘hockey, hockey, slap shot.’ She loves slap shots, so it’s fun to be able to share something like this with her.”
Last season was statistically Brouwer’s best since he made his NHL debut during the 2006-07 season. In 82 games for the Capitals, he scored 25 goals and added 18 assists. His 43 points were a career high. Entering the Winter Classic, he was on his way to replicating it, having scored 10 goals and 17 points in all 36 of Washington's games this season, something that no doubt delights his dad, a “diehard hockey fan” who watches every one of Troy's games.
“If he can’t see it directly, he’ll tape it,” Brouwer said. “He’s always got the stats going, always got the backseat coaching going. He’s very into hockey and to have him here, and for the game tomorrow, and he’s going to stick around for a few more days after that. It’s fun to have him around because he was so influential in my hockey career.
“He tells me [he’s proud of me] all the time. It means a lot to me as well, and I know he’s wanted the best for me my entire life. He always knew, it’s not all about skill, it’s not all about who scores goals and stuff like that. All that he wants from me is that I work hard and do my best. And with a lot of help of his guidance and his … we’ll call it criticism, it’s pushed me to be a good person and a pretty good hockey player.”