For 12 years, a poster of former Capitals captain Jeff Halpern hung on the bedroom wall of Daniel Titus.
As a youngster growing up in Annandale, the slender goalie dreamed of one day following in Halpern’s footsteps and realizing his dream of playing in the NHL.
Thanks to the NHL’s work stoppage and a phone call from a friend, Titus, now 20, has been able to fulfill part of that dream by playing on the same ice as Halpern, Mike Green, Jason Chimera, John Carlson and Jay Beagle.
Nearly every weekday for the past month, Titus, a student at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus, has been playing goaltender with the locked-out Capitals at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“It’s been a great experience,” Titus said. “These guys are just normal everyday guys living the dream and working hard for what they love. They have the same love of the game that kids have growing up, except they get paid for it.”
Titus is a goaltender at NOVA and his hockey season is split into two half seasons that follow the fall and spring semesters. With time off between seasons, Titus received a phone call from teammate Timmy Gonzalez, who received a text from Carlson asking if he could tend goal for the small group of Capitals, who have been skating with a handful of local hockey players, including Graham McPhee, the teenage son of Caps general manager George McPhee.
Titus said it didn’t take long for him to realize he was not on the ice with Division III players.
“The biggest difference is the release on the shots,” he said. “The first time I stepped in Mike Green decided to take a slapshot on me. That was eye-opening. I saw the puck. I didn’t stop it, but I saw it.”
Titus said his daily one-hour sessions with the Capitals has been the perfect way to spend his winter break, saying it’s helped him with his angles, crease movement and his confidence.
“If you can stop a 95-mile-an-hour slapshot, you can stop D-III kids,” he said.
Like anyone in his position, Titus says he wishes he could continue playing every day with the Caps, but he’s also anxious for the NHL to end its labor dispute.
The league and its players face a Jan. 11 deadline to come to an agreement on a new CBA. If that happens, Titus says he’ll be first in line to welcome back the league he has followed since he was 8 years old.
“I’ve been a Caps fan since Day One, so I’ll wait until the end of the world for an NHL season,” Titus said.
“But I think the league is going to lose a lot of fans because a lot of people are getting tired of it. The ticket prices are going up, the beer prices are going up, and the fans never complain. They keep showing up. Look at the Verizon Center and how many sellouts they’ve had.”
As a full-time student, Titus works part-time delivering pizzas and tending to the Fairfax Ice Arena. He said he hopes the NHL understands the damage the lockout is causing on an increasingly skeptical fan base.
“I work part-time and get minimum wage, so I know how many hours it costs to buy a ticket to a Caps game,” he said.
As for that old poster of Halpern, Titus says it’s back hanging on his wall. With an autograph, of course.
“I hate the lockout,” he said, “but this is a dream come true.”