Today marks the five-year anniversary of the day a scrappy 27-year-old free agent named Matt Bradley signed on with a young, unproven team, eager to shed his Penguin feathers and start his new life in Washington.
Over the course of that half-decade, Bradley has become more than just a fourth-line winger. He's carved out a niche for himself as a pugnacious, hilarious, quotable, paper-faced, Enrique-loving, captain-saving machine whose legend as a cult hero among Caps fans grows on an almost daily basis.
To honor his contributions both on the ice and off, a look back at the Best of Bradley.
October 13, 2005 - You never forget your first...goal, that is. Bradley's first tally as a Capital came in the first period of just his 6th game with the team; by the time the horn sounded it was also his first multi-goal game, with a late 3rd period goal against the Islanders' current GM Garth Snow.
January 17, 2008 - A back-and-forth game turned into a back-and-forth shootout, as the Caps and Oilers exchanged punches in a seemingly endless game. During the multi-round shootout Coach Boudreau threw all of the big guns (and a few of the lesser ones) at Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson but couldn't pierce the net. Enter #10...and the rest is Bradley history:
March 3, 2008 - It was a memorable game for a lot of reasons. Ovechkin's 50th goal of the season. The highest offensive output by the Caps since before the lockout. A rotation of Bruins goalies that would make a Major League pitching staff queasy with motion sickness. But amid all that was the offensive explosion by one Matt Bradley, who picked up two goals and an assist in just under twelve minutes of time, and gave the fans what they wanted - 10.
"We heard them. [Matt Bradley] was like, 'The fans wanted it, and I am a fan favorite, so I had to give them what they wanted'." - Brooks Laich
November 17, 2009 - This will long be remembered as "The Night the Legend Grew". And the reality is, it would have been enough had Bradley merely dropped the gloves early in the game with one of the League's toughest opponents, turning momentum in his team's favor. But in true Bradley fashion he returned to the game sporting stitches over his eye, raced down the wing...and gave his team the lead for good:
April 24, 2009 - Bradley had appeared in 22 playoff games without scoring up until this night, a pivotal Game 5 against the Rangers in a series that his team trailed 3-1. Out on the penalty kill, Bradley turned a loose puck into a goal - and further cemented his role as Matt Bradley, Lundqvist-killer. He would add a second just over seven minutes later en route to a 4-0 Caps victory.
April 6, 2010 - Any goal against the Penguins seem a little sweeter than most, but this one had a bit of extra sugar thrown in for a number of reasons. Not only did Bradley's late second period marker establish a new career high in goals (10), but it also served as his fifth game-winning goal of the year - a mark surpassed only by his captain. And oh yeah, it was the final game-winning goal by a Capital at Mellon Arena.
While Bradley is hardly a heavyweight, he's had his share of scraps during his tenure as a Cap - some of them highly memorable. Take a look at a few of Bradley's greatest, er, hits:
vs. Steve Downie, 1/12/08
There's no question that Matt Bradley is one of the most quotable players in the Capitals' dressing room - a room that is not exactly lacking in that department as it is. No further explanation needed, here's Mr. Bradley in his own words:
"[Boudreau] lets the offensive guys like myself and Brooks do our thing. A lot of dangling."
"I have a very paperish face, I guess you could say. If the wind blows the right way, I get cut, and it looks like I'm in a horror film. I'm a bleeder and I cut easily..."
"I’m surprised that they even have radios back in Manitoba." [...] "[Fehr]’s not the brightest guy, but I think he can probably muscle his way through it." - on teammate Eric Fehr's radio show in Winkler
"We had a guy like that going after our best player, obviously we can't let that happen." - on fighting Downie
"I told him, 'I'll score, I'll score'. I don't think either of us actually believed what I was saying. Finally he let me go and I got lucky and scored. I just blacked out for a second." - on his shootout winner against Edmonton
"I was hoping I got to go before (backup goalie) Brent Johnson went. I figured if I can go before him, I'll be doing OK."
"I was pretty excited that Bruce made me captain and it's something I enjoyed. My record speaks for itself. I'm 1-0. I just went out there and did what I do: get the game winner." - on his brief tenure as captain
"It'd be like comparing Michael Jordan to [...] Big Country Reeves. The guy that never really made it, he could barely run and stuff. That would be me, and Ovie would be Michael Jordan. That's the comparison."
The Cult Following
Bradley's come a long way from the kid who won the William Hanley Trophy, the OHL's version of the Lady Byng. And in the five years since he arrived in Washington, he's become something of a cult hero to Caps fans everywhere.
With a bloodied face, he's inspired the Bradley Hat Trick and a Twitter meme (because really, every day #needsmoreBradley...and t-shirts that say the same). With an inadvertent slip in an interview he's reminded us that all hockey players really are just overgrown twelve-year-olds. He's offered up five ways to improve the NHL, made the locker room a greener place, taught us about the forces of hockey (complete with lightsaber) and even showed off his badass ride.
And while he'll never make you forget the scoring prowess of Alex Ovechkin, the slick play-making ability of Nicklas Backstrom or the creativity of Mike Green, Matt Bradley has emerged as a bit of a superstar in his own right - just by being himself.
Happy Anniversary, Brads!