Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game on Jan. 1 between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.
Alex Ovechkin recalled after the 2015 Winter Classic that Troy Brouwer, who was a Blackhawks rookie during the 2009 edition at Wrigley Field, told his Capitals teammates that the New Year’s Day outdoor game was a “good time to show up and make a show.”
Brouwer would back up his words and help the Capitals to a 3-2 win over his old Blackhawks teammates in front of 42,832 fans at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. His goal with 12.9 seconds left in the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and spoiled Chicago’s hopes of completing a comeback after going down 2-0 after the first period.
The goal earned the Capitals two points and made Brouwer the hero for the day. But the Winter Classic experience meant much more to the then 29-year-old forward. Among the many friends and family members of the players that were in the crowd that afternoon was his father, Don, who had not seen him play live since 2010.
Don Brouwer suffered a serious stroke in April 2010, a few days before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was in a coma for six days, needed emergency surgery for a brain blood clot, had difficulty walking, and his vision was affected. Troy got on a plane once he received the news and flew to Vancouver where he stayed with his father, who was unconscious at the time. Brouwer told the Blackhawks he would be gone until his dad woke up.
Fortune worked out for the family when the Blackhawks met the Canucks in Round 2 that postseason, meaning Brouwer could visit his dad as he recovered. When Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup that spring, Don celebrated his son’s achievement with friends from his hospital bed.
Later that summer, when Troy had his day with the Cup, he brought it the hospital for the medical personnel who helped Don through the entire process. Nearly five years later, Don was inside Nationals Park watching his son play in person.
With Jonathan Toews in the box and 20 seconds to go in regulation, Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the Blackhawks’ zone. He first shot attempt was blocked by the skates of Brent Seabrook. In the split-second the defenseman lost sight of the puck, Ovechkin recovered it, but his follow-up attempt failed when Brandon Saad slashed and snapped his stick in half.
As a 5-on-3 power play was pending for the Capitals, Brouwer quickly scooped up the loose puck, spun and fired a shot by Corey Crawford.
“It was one of those where you just know the time, you know the score and you’re just trying to get a puck on net,” Brouwer said afterward. “Thankfully, it went in.”
“For Troy, with his dad coming here, it is a real special occasion just with that,” said Capitals forward Eric Fehr. “For him to score that goal at the end to get the win, he has to be feeling unbelievable right now.”
Brouwer hadn’t spoken with his dad as he met the media following the game, but he did see there was a text waiting for him and could imagine how emotional Don was at the moment.
The Winter Classic is always a special time for those involved. It comes at the end of the holiday season and friends and family are around adding to the memorable experience. For the Brouwers, New Year’s Day 2015 could not have been any more perfect.
“It’s pretty special,” Brouwer said. “I’ve had some good moments in my hockey career, but this one, with all the intangibles, that played a part in it. My parents being able to come into town, playing against my former team, this being the first goal that I scored against my former team and the dramatic fashion at the end of the game of how everything played out.
“It’s going to be a memorable day, a memorable event. The entire lead up to this has been a lot of fun and the finish couldn’t have worked out any better for us as a team and me personally.”
NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 1 p.m. ET.
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.