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Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo (and let me emphasize the WASHINGTON NATIONALS part) wore something to the Winter Classic that might stun you.

“It’s a Bobby Hull jersey,” the Chicago-born Rizzo said to the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe with a big smile. “It’s a throwback.”

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Scarf

Photo credit: Chris Gordon.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nate Schmidt sat in the corner of the Washington Nationals clubhouse, quietly taking off his gear after Caps practiced outside at Nats Park. With the NHL taking over the baseball stadium, the room has been temporarily transformed into a hockey locker room, though it’s not quite as smelly as a real one. To Schmidt’s right, around 15 reporters gathered around Karl Alzner, eager for his thoughts on the eyewear revolution he started. As RMNB’s Chief Fashion Reporter, I had my eye on a different aspect of Winter Classic apparel: the scarf Schmidt was wearing.

“This is my first ever scarf experience!” Schmidt gleefully announced to me. “First ever. I used to always make fun of people who wore scarves.”

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Bondra scores late in the game. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

This year’s NHL Winter Classic has not had much buildup. Aside from the game, there isn’t much going on. The lack of an official alumni game — which had become a tradition at Winter Classics — angered and vexed many fans. Washington cancelled this year’s Caps Convention, saying they wanted to focus on Winter Classic events and has been hyping its former players all year long, with this season being the team’s fortieth anniversary. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and Caps owner Ted Leonsis have all given competing answers as to why the event didn’t occur. Nevertheless, a group of former Caps, media members, and As Seen on TV people like NBC’s Washington Amelia Segal, took to the Nationals Park ice on Tuesday afternoon as part of an informal skate that came together in the past few weeks.

“I guess we all unfairly assumed that there would be one,” Alan May, who played in the game, said of an official alumni game, noting that Rod Langway and numerous former Blackhawks and Capitals expressed interest. “There’s nothing that can be done about it.”

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Photo: Gregory Shamus

Crazy-eyed Brooks Orpik spent 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before leaving for rival Washington as a free agent. Before that, he won a Stanley Cup with the Pens in 2009 and was a fan favorite in the ‘Burgh. Saturday night was his first time back in his old stomping grounds.

“[It’s] one of those things you’ve just got to get through,” Orpik said to The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt the morning before the game. “Once you get through the first time, then it becomes a little more normal, I guess. I don’t know what to expect, to be honest.”

It ended up being a memorable homecoming.

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Attack dog. (Photo credit: Christian Petersen)

The Barry Trotz era has been a time of tumult for Jay Beagle. In October, he let his beloved Flipper go, a love that had burned bright for six years. Once the season got going, he found his role with the Caps growing. Beagle is skating an average of almost 13 minutes a night this year, a big jump from previous seasons. In fact, Beagle has spent time on the first line skating alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Beags’s has been back there again lately, filling in during Tom Wilson’s recent mid-game benchings.

“Trotz puts a lot of faith in me and puts me in big situations,” Beagle said. “I’m grateful for it. I don’t want to let him down, I don’t want to let my team down, I don’t want to let myself down. You get those opportunities and you make the most of them.”

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Barry Trotz’s Weapon: Ice Time

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

On Saturday night, Nate Schmidt and Andre Burakovsky sat out as the Capitals faced the Devils in Newark. Tom Wilson, the first line right wing, was also benched for most of second period. Barry Trotz’s weapon is ice time, and he uses it.

For Schmidt, it was his first scratch of the season, coming on the heels of excellent play alongside Mike Green throughout the year. The game before, Schmidt had misplayed Blue Jackets forward Michael Chaput, who scored a game-tying goal late in the game.

“Sometimes you have to reset players when they’re not going very well,” Trotz said the benchings. “You have to give them a little jolt.”

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Photos by Chris Gordon.

Nicklas Backstrom is a quiet Swedish assist machine. He sits in the background, setting up Ovi and racking up points. He’s a bit shy, often speaking to reporters siting down and speaking in a soft tone. He’s not underrated. People know Backstrom is good, but he’s just doesn’t flout it at all. That’s why he’s not one of the league’s most recognizable stars, despite the skill and stats to back it up.

But we Caps fans know how good he is. Tonight, Backstrom put on a grand Saturday night production. After not scoring in almost a month, Backstrom registered a natural hat trick, his first three goal game since 2010, as the Caps beat the Bolts 4-2.

There was a present waiting for him after the game. Upon entering the Capitals locker room, Backstrom found his locker filled with the hats thrown on the ice by fans.

“I don’t know who the f—k was doing that,” Backstrom told me. “Someone surprised me.”

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Photos by Chris Gordon.

Lauren Santora looked fine today. She does many days. That’s the thing with chronic illness: it’s not as much a story of acute calamities — Lauren has been hospitalized several times in her eight years — but the practicalities of everyday life. The Santoras and other families with chronically ill kids face a quiet struggle that outsiders often fail to grasp.

Some days she’s good. Some days she isn’t. Her parents have to monitor her condition constantly. Lauren has type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which autoantibodies attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

The toll of Lauren’s illness is not confined to herself. It also falls her mother, Dianna. It falls on her father, Joe. And it falls on her brother, Ryan, who also suffers from ADHD. Both siblings also have celiac disease, another autoimmune condition.

Lauren has been playing hockey since she was two-years-old. She presents herself as a articulate and joyful little girl. Every day, Lauren tries to lead a normal life. But with chronic illness, you never quite get there.

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Artsy. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

Tom Wilson needs to play like Tom Wilson,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said early this month. “If Tom Wilson starts to play like someone else, then he won’t be on the first line.”

It’s been over a month since the bellicose winger got promoted to top line duty. He was in full bloom on Thursday, agitating the Blue Jackets all night. His premiere moment of belligerence came midway through the second period when Wilson goaded James Wisniewski into taking four minutes of penalty time for attempting to disfigure Wilson’s face.

Wisniewski’s assault failed, his stick snapping upon contact with Wilson’s chin.

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The Washington Capitals outshot the Columbus Blue Jackets 41-23 on Thursday night, but they got just one standings point out of the game because they couldn’t convert enough power plays.

Also, Caps veteran Jason Chimera, who has struggled this season, took the dumbest interference penalty ever in overtime.

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