Nicklas Backstrom, Craig Laughlin, and other DCs bring joy to fans in Prince Frederick Toys for Tots Journey

Many Washington Capitals players past and present headed to Calvert County, Maryland, for a very special cause on Saturday.

Prince Frederick Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram hosted the 10th annual Toys4Tots campaign. The event, which NBC Sports Washington’s Craig Laughlin puts his heart and time into each year, saw Nicklas Backstrom, Bobby Carpenter, Carl Alzner and John Walton come out to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. Courtney and Linda Laughlin also graciously donated their time to help collect the toys and help run the event smoothly.

Hundreds of fans could be seen parading around as the 1 p.m. signing began.

“We are so grateful to our community for answering the call to preserve some of the Christmas magic for those kids who won’t get anything on Christmas morning,” said Lee De Odd, PFCJDR Observer and Event Coordinator. “We are especially grateful for our amazing partnership with the Washington Capitals team members who come every year to support the Toys4Tots campaign and help make this a success.”

Backstrom, widely considered the second-greatest Capitals player of all time, held the lead despite not playing all that season due to hip surgery. I snowboarded at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex the morning before and then drove an hour to do the event. Backstrom flashed a big smile as he was announced to the crowd.

Laughlin hooked up with former classmate Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter was the first NHL high school player to jump straight to the league in his draft year. “Can’t Miss Kid” spent 18 seasons in the NHL, playing 1,178 games for the Capitals, Rangers, Kings, Bruins, and Devils. His best season came during the 1984-85 season when he scored 53 goals for the Capitals—the fourth most in team history. Carpenter flew to Massachusetts to be a part of the action and later attended the Capitals-Avalanche game with Laughlin.

When we were moving outside beforehand, I told Carpenter that I first learned about who he was and how good a hockey player he was through an NES hockey game when I was in grade school.

“What is NES?” he asked in his strong Boston accent.

“Oh no bad luck. Nintendo!” I replied.

“Oh my God,” he replied, laughing.

Bobby went on to reveal that he himself played in NHL 22 – the alumni players were a part of that game – along with his son and daughter and found it really cool.

Before the event started, Laughlin had everyone sign off happy birthday To Dee, who was celebrating her birthday on November 20th. He surprised her by bringing out a large cake on which candles were lit. I’ve talked about how great and thoughtful Laughlin is despite being a former NHL player and one of the Capitals’ most celebrated legends of all time.

For fans to get autographs, all they had to do was donate $20 or one unwrapped game. Players were only supposed to sign one autograph per person, but this rule was widely ignored as they all graciously signed anything and everything in front of them. Each player had autograph postcards if the fan had no item.

Nicklas Backstrom had his first chance to sign a Reverse Retro 2.0 jersey and also earned around 1,000 foamy apple points – a gift at Capital One Arena last year in celebration of his biggest individual achievement to date.

One of the sweetest exchanges happened when Kellan Moxley got close to the guys with her parents. Known as Brett Connolly’s Goblin Girl, Moxley was instantly remembered by everyone at the table. Backstrom was also very familiar with her as he would watch her play at St. James’s while at his son Vince’s rink.

“She’s a really good player,” Backstrom told me.

Backstrom signed a warm-up ball that Keelan received from Game 5 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018.

Laughlin made sure to come over and give Kellan a hug, too.

Former Capitals defender Carl Elzener had a blast being asked to sign cards and jerseys. It was especially pumped when a fan came in line with his shirt on.

“This is exciting,” he said with one of Carl’s patently huge smiles. I made sure to have a photo for documentation purposes.

Carl also smiled when he signed a Pinnacle card that was lined up on one of his cards, but the photo was of Matt Hendrix.

“I laugh every time I see this card,” said Alzener.

Capitals radio voice John Walton was all smiles when asked to autograph a microphone from a fan.

“Yeah, I’m definitely going to sign this,” Walton said.

The streak also came to a halt when Backstrom signed a Capitals jersey-wearing dog. Many photos were taken.

While meeting the players brought great joy that day to the Capitals fans who attended, the event was really about how the agent helped children in need. Kids who didn’t receive any presents during the holiday season will now get amazing gifts just like all their friends.

“We had 246 people come in and we had three truckloads of toys full of donations,” said Dee. “15 of these bikes. We also raised $1,540.00 that we are going to purchase items to donate to older 13-17 year olds and find some items that will be more appropriate for their age levels.”

Laughlin made sure to bring his guests outside to appreciate the amount that was donated.

What could have summed up Laughlin’s amazing kindness the most was at the end of the action when he was rushing out the door to get in time for the Capitals-Avalanche game he was serving as color commentator for. One fan, who drove from Florida, missed the signing by about 30 minutes. Heartbroken, he had a pair of game-used hockey shorts from Backstrom’s that he wanted to sign. Loughlin texted Backstrom and the Capitals center said he would sign the item in the arena. It was one of those moments when she felt like she was pushing her limits.

“I had to do it,” Laughlin said. “He drove from Florida!”

I asked Locker if he had anything he wanted to say to the fans who made it.

“Thank you to everyone who came out to support Toys4Tots,” Laughlin told me. “The response we have had this year has been overwhelming and I really appreciate it. I think we will make a lot of kids smile at the holidays. And a special shout out to all the guys who signed autographs and took the time to talk to the fans. Your enthusiasm means a lot to everyone who came out.

“And, of course, thanks Prince Frederick Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, for another great event at your dealership. You always give so much back to the DMV.”

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