ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The red and blue hues of the Washington Capitals fit comfortably on Ryan Leibold.
With Olaf Kolzig still in the net and Alex Ovechkin entering his second NHL season, a 7-year-old Liebold watched intently to the team’s 2006 training camp at the Ashburn Ice House, located in the same city he grew up in. Since then, he’s been in the stands for countless Capitals games, multiple Game 7s and both of the team’s Winter Classic matchups.
Now, he’s on the ice, wearing a Capitals jersey with his name on the back — and you can bet he’s soaking it all in.
“Just being around the guys, having the big logo on the chest, has been super awesome,” Leibold said Sunday at McMullen Hockey Arena in Annapolis, where the team is hosting its rookie camp.
Leibold is one of six non-roster players invited to camp, joining the likes of first-rounders Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroshnichenko for a multitude of on-ice drills and, while in Annapolis, a handful of activities inspired by the U.S. Naval Academy.
The opportunity is a stroke of luck for Leibold, who briefly worked with the Capitals as an assistant power skating coach during the team’s development camp last offseason, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Leibold had just finished his fourth season on the ice at Holy Cross, where he was an assistant captain, leading the team with 26 points during his senior season. But after the COVID-19 pandemic afforded him an extra season of eligibility, Leibold wound up at Merrimack College, tallying 12 points — five goals, seven assists — in 38 games.
Leibold quickly signed a professional contract after his college career ended, joining the South Carolina Stingrays — the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate — for the final nine games of the regular season. After re-signing with the team in August, he will suit up for the Stingrays again this season.
Congrats to Ryan Leibold on scoring his first professional goal in last night’s win! 👊 pic.twitter.com/BCy00kgVyb
— SC Stingrays (@SCStingrays) April 13, 2023
“Still love the game, still feel like I have more to give to the game,” Leibold said. “If I have the opportunity to keep playing, then I’m gonna do it.”
Leibold joined the team’s informal skates earlier this month in preparation for camp, brushing elbows with some of the players who defined his childhood. Sharing the locker room with Ovechkin, John Carlson and others, he thought the starstruck awe had faded away.
That is until veteran Nicklas Backstrom extended a friendly hello.
“He walked up to me, said, ‘What’s up man, my name’s Nick,’” Leibold recalled. “I just thought in my head ‘I know, I’ve got your jersey in my closet.’”