- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2019

Imagine being a hockey kid from Northern Virginia, the son of Washington Capitals season ticket holders, a youth player on the Little Capitals — and then bumping into Alex Ovechkin in your dentist’s waiting room.

Herndon, Virginia native Joe Snively was that boy. Ten or so years ago, a much younger Ovechkin signed a pair of his hockey gloves at that chance meeting at the dentist they shared. On Tuesday, Snively joined the organization he grew up rooting for when he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Capitals.

Snively, a 23-year-old forward from Yale, began playing hockey at 5 or 6 years old. But he truly came up through the youth ranks during the start of the Ovechkin era, and MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington was his home rink as well.

“When the Caps started to become successful, you could just see the amount of people in the local rinks, it started to increase,” Snively said on a conference call. “It’s been really cool to witness and be a local (from) Northern Virginia and just see how the hockey community’s just gotten so much bigger.”

Snively had 15 goals (including five power-play goals) and 21 assists in 33 games in his senior year at Yale. Far from a late bloomer, he won Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman, yet he was not selected in the NHL Draft.

One report indicated that 20 NHL teams “expressed interest” in signing Snively, but the forward said his agent had narrowed the process down to five teams. His hometown connection wasn’t the only reason he chose Washington, but it must have made his choice easier.

“You grow up watching the Caps, you dream of playing for them,” Snively said. “It felt really great to sign a contract with the Capitals, but my goal is to play in an NHL game with them and I’ve still got a lot of work to do before that.”

The Ovechkin anecdote aside, Snively cited Nicklas Backstrom as one player he particularly looked up to as a young fan and athlete.

“I really admired Backstrom just because I just loved his playmaking ability and that’s just something I try to learn from him,” Snively said. “He’s just an unbelievable passer. I’ve been watching him play for the Caps since he was drafted.”

It’s rare for American NHL teams outside Minnesota or perhaps New England to sign prospects with local ties. One example for Washington was Jeff Halpern, a player from Potomac, Maryland, who spent the beginning of his career with the Capitals and played for them again in 2011-12.

Snively’s contract begins with the 2019-2020 season, but he could report to the AHL Hershey Bears on a professional tryout arrangement.

Ovechkin said it was special to see local kids who grew up watching him now signing with the team.

“It’s pretty cool for this area, for fans and for kids,” he said. “They see the progress that hockey did in the United States and, obviously, in D.C. and it’s pretty cool.”

Coach Todd Reirden added it was “pretty neat to see it all kind of come full-circle.”

“Just a really great story in terms of being a local player, playing in this rink growing up,” Reirden said. “To me, he’s (evidence) of generations of players that are starting to come around thanks to Ovechkin and Backstrom and the growth of the organization. It’s going to be fun to watch the next few years the impact that they’ve been able to have on young hockey players and building the game of hockey in the area.”

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

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