Eight-year-old Braden Nienaber deked around a sliding Tom Wilson, froze Braden Holtby with a head fake and tucked a back hander into the open net.
But that wasn’t enough to satisfy his 11-year-old sister, Cassandra.
“Drop the gloves,” she implored, banging the dasher boards in front of the players bench at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
Wouldn’t you know, Braden did that, too, feigning a fight with Wilson the morning after the Capitals rookie did the real thing against Carter Ashton of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Saturday’s visit with the Capitals, which included a big hug between the two Bradens, completed the first half of Braden Nienaber’s wish, granted through The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.
The second half of that wish will be granted today when Braden, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, drops the ceremonial puck prior to the Caps’ 3 p.m. game against the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.
“Thankfully, our wish came true for him, that he’s healthy and happy,” Braden’s mother, Tammy Nienaber said. “And now Braden’s wish is coming true for him.”
When Braden was 4 years old, his parents, Tammy and Kevin, noticed a lump forming on the left side of his forehead. At first, they thought he must have fallen off his bicycle.
But when the lump grew, they took him to a doctor, who told them it was a fluid-filled gland that did not need treatment. When Tammy could not put a T-shirt over her son’s head without him crying, she insisted on seeing a plastic surgeon and a team of neurologists, who recommended the growth be removed and that Braden’s forehead be reconstructed with metal plates and screws.
The tumor was sent to the Mayo Clinic, which diagnosed Braden with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare childhood disease similar to cancer in which white blood cells multiply too quickly, causing bone and organ damage.
Months after the surgery, a few days after Braden’s fifth birthday, a routine dental X-ray revealed a hole in Braden’s left jaw. He underwent chemotherapy every week for the next six months and, aside from swollen lymph nodes, he’s been symptom-free in the two years since his treatments.
The Nienaber family lives two houses away from the family of Karen and Ian Belyea, who served as a billet family for Holtby when he played junior hockey for the Saskatoon Blades. Holtby has become somewhat of a local hero in Saskatoon and when young Braden Nienaber was offered an opportunity for a wish, he asked to skate with Holtby and maybe meet Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
On Saturday, several Capitals players and head coach Adam Oates stopped to say hello to the Nienaber family, which also includes 5-year-old Riley.
“Unless you go through what they go through you never really understand what it’s like,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “The guys in here will do anything to make kids smile when they need a smile.”
Today the Nienabers will have the chance to tour the VerizonCenter locker room and press box, while Braden participates in a first intermission skate with area team mascots.
“The team has just gone above and beyond what they were asked to do and we’re so grateful to the entire team,” Tammy Nienaber said. “And especially Braden Holtby, he put the wheels into motion for this to happen for this little boy from Canada. We’re just thrilled.”