Before Alex Ovechkin would shake up the Capitals franchise, Peter Bondra was one of the Capitals leading scorers and franchise legends. In the 2004 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals organization and the fans saw the rise of a new era when Ovechkin was chosen as the first overall pick. The GR8 has received many individual awards and achievements and as the team’s captain, led the Caps to three Presidents’ Trophy (2009/10, 2015/16 and 2016/17) and the long-awaited Stanley Cup. This has become the era of challenging Bondra’s hold on franchise milestones!
Known for his speed and a lethal scoring abilities, “Bonzai” led the Caps franchise in goals (472), points (825), and hat tricks (19) in 961 games, before Ovechkin would begin to break his records. Even nowadays, Bondra still holds the franchise records for:
- shorthanded goals in a season: 6 (tied with Mike Gartner);
- shorthanded goals in career playing with the Caps: 32;
- game-winning goals in a season: 13.
Growing Up Hockey
Peter Bondra was born in 1968 in Ukraine, which then was part of the Soviet Union. When Peter was three-years old, his parents moved he and his brothers Juraj and Vladimir to then Czechoslovakia, his father’s homeland. This move proved to be useful as Bondra started to play hockey in HC Poprad, a team from a small league. Unfortunately, his father passed away in 1982, when he was just 14. When he was 18, he was transfered to TJ VSŽ Košice (current HC Košice), a team from the First Division, where he played alongside his brother Juraj, and won the league championship in 1988.
The Capitals drafted Bondra in 1990 as the eighth round, 156th overall pick. With the Cold War coming to an end and the looming collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bondra didn’t have the same problems coming to America and the NHL as did some Soviet players before him. Following Czechoslovakia’s split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bondra relinquished his Russian citizenship, claiming a Slovak citizenship and a new passport for easier travel between home and Washington.
In the 1990’s, alongside Dale Hunter, Bondra was one of the main offensive player and one of the franchise superstars. With 52 goals in 1997-98, he helped the Caps to win their first Eastern Conference championship and their first Stanley Cup final round appearance, in which they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. With Hunter’s trade to the Colorado Avalanche in 1998-99, Bondra became the primary offensive forward on the team.
After the dissapointment of 1998, the Capitals couldn’t manage to get any deeper in the playoffs in the following seasons. Many of their main players were becoming expensive veterans who could not advance to the final round. So, the Caps traded some of the most notable players, including Bondra, who talked about his trade to Ottawa in tears: “I grew up here. I grew up as a player. I grew up as a person. I have to understand that I have to move on. When (former Caps GM) George (McPhee) told me, I was so shocked and, like, my stomach had butterflies. It was almost emotionally a breakdown. It was tough… I was here for 14 years, and all of a sudden it’s gone. I still don’t believe it” Another Caps idol, Olaf Kolzig, said about the trade: “When you say Washington Capitals, the first thing you think is Peter Bondra”. Bondra said farewell after 14 years of play with the Caps. But he would not be gone forever.
Bondra played another three seasons in the NHL before retiring in 2007. His new citizenship allowed him to return to represent Slovakia at the 2002 IIHF World Championship (Gold) and at the 2003 World Championship (Bronze). He played in two Olympics (1998, 2006) and in the World Cup of Hockey (1996). Bondra was General Manager for Team Slovak from 2007-11 and a scout for Team Europe during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, according to the Capitals.
Bondra, who also has a home in Maryland, is an active participate in Capitals Alumni Games, including one before the Capitals first Winter Classic. Bondra was named Director of Alumni Affairs and Business Development in 2017, coming back to the Capitals officially after 13 years. A player with such a connection with the team and DC area, with his individial skills and contribution as a player, deserves to be in the Caps Pantheon.
Securing His Legacy
Retiring The Number 12 jersey would be a great way of recognizing his work and legacy for the Washington Capitals organization and for the joy he has brought his many fans. In a 2008 interview at Sportnation – ESPN’s Chat with Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, was asked if he would retire Bondra’s jersey. Leonsis replied: “When the time is right, I am sure things will work out the right way and Peter Bondra will have his day, but he just retired last season so we all need to give this some time.”
It has been ten years since the Leonsis’ interview. Is Bonzai finally getting his #12 retired this season? He was inducted into the DC Sports Hall of Fame in May 2018. Is the time right now? Let’s hope so!!!