Garnet Hathaway celebrates scoring a goal at the Caps home opener Credit: Washington Capitals Photography

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All Garnet Hathaway wanted that night was a Washington Capitals victory. If they won, he would be able to visit the players in the locker room afterward. If they lost, that probably wasn’t going to happen, Hathaway remembers Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and his uncle telling him.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever cheered harder for a game,” he says.

Back in 1999, Hathaway was an energetic, sports-obsessed kid from Maine about to turn 8. His older brother, Ephraim, rooted for the Caps. Their uncle, Greg Shove, once worked with Leonsis, and Hathaway, his brother, and their cousin came to town to watch the Capitals take on the Toronto Maple Leafs from the owner’s suite in the arena then known as the MCI Center. 

The experience changed the trajectory of his life. “That’s when it became real, I think,” Hathaway says of his NHL dream.  

Twenty years later, he’s back in D.C.—except this time as a Capitals player.

***

No matter where his parents took him, Hathaway would find a way to get lost. The youngest of five children, he admits to being “a havoc” when he was younger, and having endless energy to burn.

As an outlet, he participated in any sport he could.

“I was always moving,” Hathaway, 27, says. “I was always running around.”

He was born in Florida, but his family moved to Kennebunkport, Maine, around the time he turned one. In early 1999, his parents decided to take their five children on a trip around the world—something Hathaway’s father, John, had been thinking about for years.

They started in California and then traveled to New Zealand. The Hathaways drove through the Outback and saw the Great Barrier Reef. They went to West Timor in Indonesia, followed by Bali, Singapore, and Kathmandu. 

The itinerary, which is detailed in a 2017 NHL.com article, also included trips to Mount Everest Base Camp, Hong Kong, Moscow, Athens, Rome, Paris, and London. In total, the family traveled for 99 days.

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“That was crazy,” Hathaway says. “It was—I don’t want to say it was luxurious, we were backpacking … The stuff that I was carrying around was what I had for three months. And I was 7 years old, so you can imagine how chaotic I was running around everywhere … But it was an unbelievable experience. We took every mode of transportation possible, got to be introduced to a lot of different parts of the world, a lot of different circumstances. You take a lot out of it and you realize how grateful you are for what you have. I think it’s helped me grow as a person. It’s an awesome experience that I’ll always hold close to me.”

Growing up in Maine, Hathaway also got to observe his dad’s work in the lobster processing business. While attending Brown University, Hathaway started his own business with a hockey teammate, selling lobster rolls out of an old sausage cart.

He spent two of his summers during college making lobster rolls and lugging the cart “all over Rhode Island,” before he started attending NHL prospect camps. 

“It was a great experience,” Hathaway says. “We learned a lot of stuff.”

***

Hathaway doesn’t bring up these stories to his new teammates on the Capitals. But some of the tales have followed him wherever he goes.

During the team’s home opener on Oct. 5 against the Carolina Hurricanes, Hathaway scored his first Caps goal to put the team up 1-0 in the first period of its eventual 3-2 overtime loss. He nearly scored another goal late in the second period, but the Hurricanes issued a successful challenge for goaltender interference.

“I was very happy for him,” says teammate Nic Dowd, who joined the Capitals last season. “I know when you move to a new team you want to have a good start … When you move to a new team it’s stressful … You got new systems, new guys, you’re trying to kinda find your pecking order. Just a lot of stuff going on. I was happy for him that he was able to get the first one out of the way.”

When Hathaway scored, the red-clad fans in Capital One Arena exploded with cheers for the team’s first goal of the season. Among the crowd was a fan wearing Hathaway’s No. 21 jersey with the word “LOBSTAH” printed on the back.

“I never met him. I gotta try to find out who it is,” Hathaway says of the fan. “It’s hilarious. Support like that, it’s really welcoming. It’s helped the transition a lot.”

The Capitals signed Hathaway to a four-year, $6 million contract in July to bolster their fourth-line. Since going undrafted out of Brown University in 2014, Hathaway had spent his professional career with the Calgary Flames or their American Hockey League affiliate. 

In 175 career games with Calgary, Hathaway recorded 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points.

He says he had conversations with other teams during the offseason but that “Washington stuck out.” 

“I think he’s done pretty much exactly what he’s supposed to have done since he’s gotten here,” says Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “He does have the ability to shoot the puck, as you can see. He’s got a really quick release and it’s a heavy shot. He scored 11 goals last year, penalty kill prowess, ability to get in on the forecheck … and he’s not slow out there. He gets to hits and he can move. He’s a key part of how we want that fourth-line identity to look.”

***

Hathaway saw Leonsis the other week and thanked him for that fateful trip to D.C. 20 years ago. The Caps went on to beat Toronto, 5-3, that night and Hathaway got to meet several of the players afterward.

He received a Calle Johannson hockey stick signed by the team and his brother received an Adam Oates stick, while his cousin got one from Olaf Kölzig. Meeting the players inspired Hathaway to one day make it to the NHL.

“You can watch it on TV, you can watch it on the stands, but when you meet the guys, you find out how real it is and how they’re humans, too,” he says. “There’s a journey, but there’s a way to get there as well.”

When the Hathaway brothers returned to Maine, they continued to root for the Capitals. The Portland Pirates, the Capitals’ AHL affiliate at the time, played just 40 minutes north of where they lived, and any time the Capitals were in town to play the Boston Bruins, they made an effort to go.

And even though he grew up in New England, Hathaway had already made an allegiance to his future team. “I mean I like the Bruins,” he says, “but when it came to the Bruins or Caps, it was the Caps.”

That choice is even easier now.

Jason Rogers contributed to this report.