- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2020

After the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup, between the swigs of beer and dives into fountains, T.J. Oshie told Braden Holtby to call his tattoo guy.

Several Capitals players headed to Tattoo Paradise in Northwest Washington for some ink, and Oshie got his now-famous tattoo of the video game character Wario, memorializing the team’s tradition of camping out in hotel rooms on the road and playing “Mario Kart 64” for hours.

That story has become part of Capitals lore, beloved by fans, but most don’t know that Wario isn’t the only tattoo Oshie got that night. He had another request for tattoo artist Billy Bennett: the letters “NOR” — the nickname of his wife, Lauren Oshie — on his left ring finger.

The Capitals have embarked on a three-game road trip in the Southwest, meaning players and coaches must be apart from their wives and girlfriends this Valentine’s Day. But Oshie, Holtby, Nic Dowd and Nick Jensen can remember their loved ones by looking down at the wedding ring tattoos imprinted on their fingers — a trend growing popular among hockey players and non-athletes alike.

NHL players cannot wear jewelry during games or practices, which means when they don their gloves, wedding rings must be slid off. Doctors, nurses, welders and firefighters face a similar occupational problem.

“If I was going to my office all day just sitting in a suit, it’d obviously be a lot easier (to wear a ring),” Oshie said. “I actually really liked wearing the wedding band. But when you do what we do, we have to have it off more than we can have it on. It’s just too tough, too easy to lose.”

Many choose to wear an inexpensive silicone ring in place of the band. For others, tattoos are becoming a favored alternative.

“My wife liked the idea and then I think I just entertained it just because it’s nice not to have to wear a ring all the time and worry about losing it,” Dowd said. “And then at the same time, it sticks in you forever, so it’s a meaningful thing to do.”

Bennett, who’s worked at Tattoo Paradise for 10 years, said “getting your hand tattooed used to be kind of a crazy thing to do.” Yet in recent years, he’s seen more clients ask for it.

“People are constantly searching for a lot of meaning in (tattoos),” Bennett said. “It doesn’t get much more meaningful than committing not only to marrying someone, but also, like, you can’t take that off.”

Just as wedding bands can be engraved, the tattoo route offers customization. While Oshie chose his wife’s nickname, Holtby’s tattoo is two lines to represent a band and Dowd and Jensen each have their wedding dates in Roman numeral form.

More millennial-aged couples could be moving toward ring tattoos to save money on the rings. Bennett estimated a ring tattoo would run a client $100 to $150, while bands themselves can cost thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t have to be strictly an alternative to physical rings, either. Jensen said he brings his ring out for special occasions. Brandi Holtby got a tattoo matching Braden’s but also wears her ring.

The longtime Washington goaltender said there are always people who will ask something along the lines of, “What happens if something happens?” But the Holtbys’ love isn’t in doubt.

“(It’s) something that shows another sign of commitment,” Holtby said.

For pro athletes, family life has its challenges. Dowd praised his wife Paige Dowd’s patience and admitted spouses often have to “play second fiddle to the sport.”

“They really have to love you in order to do that. It takes a lot for them to (let you) pursue your passion,” he said.

Oshie is grateful for modern conveniences like the video call app FaceTime, saying he couldn’t imagine years ago when the best option available was the hotel phone.

“The hardest thing for me is, one, seeing Lauren have to do most everything on her own when we’re gone half the time,” Oshie said. “And for me, it sucks when you get home and all of a sudden the kids know different things and you weren’t there to teach them it. I think as a dad, that’s kind of something that I really take pride in, is teaching them and having them learn from me instead of someone else.”

The night Oshie got his tattoos, he was joined by Holtby, Jakub Vrana and former teammates Devante Smith-Pelly, Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. They didn’t storm into a random parlor off the street amid their partying; Holtby had asked Bennett ahead of time if he could accommodate them all.

For anyone who wants to follow Oshie and get a ring tattoo of their own, Bennett advised doing some research first.

“I would recommend that you definitely get it done by someone who knows what they’re doing, because the finger is such a hard place to tattoo and to get it to stick around,” he said.

Making sure you plan to spend the rest of your life with your spouse wouldn’t hurt, either.

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

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