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Xbox, Hotels & Battle Royales: Capitals Bond With Call Of Duty, Video Games



Washington Capitals

ARLINGTON, V.A. — When COVID-19 led to “bubble” life and a lot of strict quarantine protocols and hotel regulations, the Washington Capitals found themselves isolated and bored. Away from the rink and done with recovery and workouts, they would find themselves channel surfing, laying in bed or FaceTiming with family. That’s when T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and more turned on the Xbox, and from there, a new tradition was born.

The Capitals found a love for “Call of Duty” and teamed up to play Battle Royales together in teams to kill some time. Oshie and Carlson led the charge and formed a video game club in the locker room. Brian Pinho and Axel Jonsson-Fjlalby also used to be part of the group, and Joe Snively will occasionally play. But going into 2022-23, the main “COD” squad consists of Carlson, Nick Jensen, Marcus Johansson, Anthony Mantha and, on occasion, Alex Ovechkin.

“It was born out of the pandemic. Being at home so much and not being able to do much, and then obviously there was the hotel year and semi-hotel year and there was a lot of restriction in terms of not being able to do much. So a lot of downtime in the hotel room is not great. It’s tough to watch that many shows and lay in bed for so long,” Carlson said. “So it’s always a good, different thing that I hadn’t done in 15 years before this latest rendezvous. But yeah, it’s been really fun to get on with the guys and joke around and mess around and have something to do.

“It’s funny. Some nights, someone goes for dinner and comes home later, you can just be walking through the hallway and hear people scream and you know who it is and what’s going on,” Carlson said. “I’m coming back from dinner, and I can hear Jens screaming down the hall.”

The gaming did bring some much-needed amusement and team bonding during two straight seasons dealing with a pandemic.

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Oshie has since hung up the controller and is excited to get to be with his teammates on the road without needing to tune up the Xbox thanks to the more relaxed protocols going forward.

“I’m just too old to be playing video games now. It takes a lot of time if you want to be good at that stuff,” Oshie said. I started during the pandemic when we weren’t able to leave the rooms. It’s kind of something to do and easy to hang out with the boys without actually hanging out in person. Now that we can, I’ll be back out on the road with the fellas.”

When it comes to the worst player on the team’s Call of Duty squad, several stayed tight-lipped. Jensen held himself accountable.

“I’ll put myself as the worst,” Jensen laughed. “I’m going to keep the team camaraderie together. I’ll be the anchor.”

However, after scouting out the dressing room, Carlson admitted that if he had to pick the worst player — though he said everyone’s pretty good — it would be the Great 8.

“I would probably say the big man. I think that’s probably why everyone won’t say anything,” Carlson laughed. “No, no, he’s not. I think that he usually plays with his friends a lot. So we’re all kind of doing the same stuff and then when he comes in, he’s kind of off on his own page a little bit. He’s got more of a different play style. Ovi we always see him on, but he’s never really playing with us. Or he’ll call us and be like, ‘hey, what gun are we using?’ And he’s got all his stuff in Russian, so we can’t help him.”

Johansson and Mantha earned high praise from their teammates. For Johansson, it’s all about technique and practice.

“I played a lot of it when I was younger. When I got here, I hadn’t played in a while, but when I do something, I tend to like go all in about it and whatever. I want to be good at it, I just think it’s fun, “Johansson said.

Mantha wouldn’t take the compliment.

“I wouldn’t consider myself one of the best,” he said with a laugh.

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Beyond COD, there are different video game fads in the room. Dylan Strome plays Call of Duty sometimes, but most of the time can be found playing in online societies or pursuing his own virtual golf career 2K Sports’ PGA franchise.

Matt Irwin and Connor McMichael both own a Nintendo Switch and will play Mario Kart on their own time. Irwin often plays with his almost five-year-old son, Beckem, while McMichael plays Mario Kart and Wii Sports with his girlfriend.

Aliaksei Protas plays a lot of FIFA and had left former teammate Jonsson-Fjallby know on multiple occasions that he beat AJF in their best-of-7 series. It’s a great way to bring the team closer, Protas said, but also, things can get too competitive.

“Everybody wants to win, so sometimes it’s fun but sometimes one of us gets real mad,” he laughed. “I love to play soccer on the Xbox, it might be my favorite game.”

Ironically, there weren’t a lot of constant EA Sports NHL players in the room, though the Capitals did play against professional gamers as part of their media day. Plus, Ovechkin hosts an NHL online tournament over the offseason in Russia.

Lars Eller and Connor Brown, meanwhile, stay away from the controllers. The two are big-time card players and do that to kill the time on flights and on the road. Meanwhile, Eller also likes to keep his brain moving with games like chess.

“Just a different way of intellectual stimulation,” Eller grinned.

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In the end, it’s a fun way for the Capitals to connect and shoot the breeze. And going forward, it’s a tradition that appears to have survived the pandemic.

“It’s fun to play and fun to play with some of the guys and friends back home that you don’t talk to too often and stuff like that,” Johansson said. “Just fun to play and pick things up here and there… It’s just a way to get the time to pass. Especially on the road where you don’t have anything to do.”