- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2019

The national champion Clemson Tigers were treated to Big Macs, Whoppers and Quarter Pounders at the White House Monday when President Trump congratulated the team on its victory a week earlier.

The Washington Capitals, who won their championship seven months ago, haven’t seen so much as a small order of fries.

Given Mr. Trump’s sensitivity to all things Russia in the midst of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, it would be understandable if the White House balked at a photo op that featured the president hugging it out with Vladimir Putin’s pal Alex Ovechkin.

But according to the Capitals, the holdup is merely a scheduling issue.

The Capitals plan to visit the White House in honor of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory, but the two parties have not found a mutually agreeable date, a team source told The Washington Times.

A White House representative did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

The traditional feel-good, post-championship visit to the White House for sports teams has become fraught with political baggage in the Trump era, as many athletes openly oppose his politics.

Individual players have boycotted ceremonies, and in 2017, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry said he wasn’t interested in meeting the president. Mr. Trump, who isn’t known for his restraint in the face of criticism, disinvited the NBA champs via Twitter.

“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Invitation is withdrawn!”

The next season, the entire Warriors team said no to visiting the White House.

In June of last year, Mr. Trump canceled the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit the night before the event. The White House said it was because the Eagles wanted to “send a smaller delegation” and not the whole team.

But the Capitals were supposed to be a different story. Mr. Trump said last summer the team was invited “if they want to be here.” He also congratulated the Capitals on Twitter, writing, “D.C. is popping, in many ways.”

Ovechkin has said he’s excited to visit the White House. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov, another Russian, said it will be “a huge privilege” to meet Mr. Trump.

Washington is tied with Dallas for the NHL teams with the most Russians on the active roster — four apiece — and whenever the visit occurs, their presence no doubt will inspire Russia jokes on social media and cable news outlets alike.

Exactly when a champion visits the White House varies by sport. Major League Baseball teams usually make a trip to Washington during their offseason. In 2017, the Chicago Cubs, with President Barack Obama down to his last few days in the Oval Office, squeezed in a Jan. 16 trip to meet the chief executive and Chicago sports fan.

The Boston Red Sox — who don’t have any Russians on their roster — won their World Series title in October and have scheduled a trip to the White House next month.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the two Stanley Cups prior to Washington’s, and each year they visited the White House the following October — once with Mr. Obama, then with Mr. Trump. In 2017, the Penguins made their visit while in town to play the Capitals.

That has been a common practice among NHL and NBA champions: They often line up the White House visit for whenever they’re scheduled for a game in the District.

But championship teams based in Washington, like the Capitals, have the luxury of being a short drive away from the White House for half the season, so scheduling the visit shouldn’t be a problem.

The Capitals are the first Washington team in a “major four” league to win a championship since the Redskins’ last Super Bowl in 1992. Those Redskins visited George H.W. Bush’s White House a couple of months later.

The Capitals have an eight-day break with no games in late January that coincides with NHL All-Star Weekend, which could lend itself nicely for scheduling the visit.

Whenever the Capitals do make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, two players have said they won’t be there: Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly.

Smith-Pelly, a black Canadian, said during the playoffs that “the things that [Mr. Trump] spews are straight-up racist and sexist.” Later that summer, Connolly told Canadian press at an offseason camp that “it has nothing to do with politics, it’s about what’s right and wrong.”

Other Capitals have made it clear they want to make the trip.

“I realize everyone might have different stands on it, but I think going to the White House, whether people are very political or whether you like Trump or not, just kind of in my opinion, it stands for so much more than that,” T.J. Oshie said. “It is something people have been doing for a long time with so many different presidents … I think it would be cool for us to go there.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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