(Photo: NHL.com)

On New Years Day 2015, the puck will drop in Washington, D.C., for the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, where the Washington Capitals will host the Chicago Blackhawks for an exciting outdoor matchup at Nationals Park.

But the Winter Classic isn’t just a one-day isolated event.  On the ice and off, the NHL and the Washington Capitals are making a positive impact on the community.

Recently, the NHL and the Capitals refurbished “Watkins Rush Rink,” a street hockey rink at the Watkins Elementary School and Recreation Center in Washington, D.C.  This project was part of the NHL’s Legacy Initiative, which works to support community organizations in the host city of an NHL event through the work of the League, the local Club, and League partners.  This year’s Winter Classic Legacy Initiative was able to invest over $115,000 into the D.C. community and the Watkins Rush Rink project through the efforts of NHL partners Bridgestone, Franklin, Constellation, Pepco, ECORE International, and CleanRiver Recycling Solutions, in addition to local funding and support from D.C. Parks & Recreation and D.C. Public Schools.

“The Winter Classic is a fabulous showcase and celebration of hockey, and our partnership in the NHL’s Legacy program will have a lasting impact on the Southeast D.C. community for years to come through the refurbishment of the Watkins Rush Rink,” said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who is also the founder and chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “We have participated in and witnessed a tremendous growth in local amateur hockey during the last decade, and this street hockey opportunity will introduce even more boys and girls to the sport. The Winter Classic, while a New Year’s Day spectacle, is more than just one game; it’s an event that impacts our team, our fans and our city. It’s an exciting time and opportunity for our organization and community.”

The refurbishments and contributions for Watkins Rush Rink include a brand new Sport Court, team benches, rubber matting surrounding the rink made from 170 recycled tires, repaired netting and boards, updated energy efficient lighting, and new goalie nets, recycle bins, and street hockey equipment.

“While the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be memorable in a host of ways, it is a priority for the National Hockey League that the impact of this outstanding event lasts long after the game concludes,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “By refurbishing Watkins Rush Rink, we hope to provide a source of fun and fitness to generations of youngsters who want to enjoy street hockey – while also supporting our commitment to environmentally friendly initiatives.”

“DPR is appreciative of the gift of the equipment and renovations to the Watkins Rush Rink from the NHL and the Washington Capitals,” said Dr. Sharia Shanklin, acting director of D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation. “These organizations reached out to DPR so they could give back to this community and to help DPR bolster and expand our sports’ programs and opportunities for youth to participate in both street and ice hockey. These improvements will help spread the “Rock the Red” spirit across the District at the Winter Classic at Nationals Park on January 1, 2015 but also here in our neighborhood on a daily basis.”

Additionally, the Washington Capitals provided street hockey development and training for 23 physical education teachers in 21 D.C. schools; with this training, the schools can now include street hockey in their respective P.E. programs.  These 21 schools also received brand new street hockey equipment, including sticks, balls, nets, and goalie pads.  Twelve Watkins Elementary School students were also chosen to try out the new rink with former Capitals players Sylvain Cote, Rod Langway, and Alan May.

No doubt these lucky students and the surrounding D.C. community will remember this opportunity and the Legacy Initiative’s generosity for years to come.

Stephanie is currently a student at Roger Williams University and is working toward a BFA in Creative Writing and Film. She is hoping to pursue a master's degree in Sports Journalism after graduating. Stephanie is a former basketball player and now enjoys writing from the sidelines (though she wouldn't be opposed to watching from a press box). She quite literally turned into a full-fledged hockey fan overnight, and she is the lone Rangers/Blackhawks fan in a family of hardcore Bruins fans. During the offseason, she enjoys writing, film, traveling, and theatre. Twitter: @stephanielynn_

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