An eight-year-old boy's chance to rub elbows with his favourite NHL stars was a thrill in itself. But an unexpected gesture has now turned Braden Nienaber into a star too.
He got to do the ceremonial puck drop at Sunday's match-up between the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres.
And just for a laugh — he threw the Sabres' captain and tough guy Steve Ott out of the face-off. The crowd and sportscasters ate it up.
"He [Ott] already knew what I wanted to do so he just played along," said Braden.
The gag was a friend's idea, Braden said, suggested in a text message.
Braden, his parents, sister and brother were at the Capitals home game as part of a special trip arranged through the Children's Wish Foundation. He has spent the last few years fighting a life-threatening blood disease that attacked his bones. He is now in remission.
The inspiration for Braden's wish to visit the Capitals goes back to when team member Braden Holtby was playing for the Saskatoon Blades. He lived two doors down from the Nienabers. Holtby became Braden Nienaber's friend and hero.
The family had requested simply to attend a Capitals game and have Braden skate with Holtby and some of the other team members. The Capitals accommodated their wish, and then some.
"When we got there it was surprise after surprise," said his mother, Tammy Nienaber. "It was just non-stop. So thanks to them very very much for making this little boy's dream come true. They made him feel like he was a team player for two full days."
During the family's visit to Washington D.C. Braden visited the Capitals' locker room, where they had a stall with his nameplate, equipment and custom-made jersey ready for him. He skated with the players. He drove the zamboni. He and his father even watched the warm-ups from the Capitals bench.
The family returned to Saskatoon late Tuesday evening, laden with team souvenirs and memories to last a lifetime.