I still LOVE the good ole hockey game…

February 11, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

It’s been a few years since I’ve taken in a Washington Capitals game. Like, so long, I honestly don’t remember the last game I went to. It was probably in 2003 or 2004, and it was a midweek showdown with the Nashville Predators.

Before I start, let me warn you today.

This one might be long and ramble a little. The last two times I started rambling about how much I love sports, and why I love sports, it turned into a pair of books.

This won’t be a book, but I could literally sit here all night writing about hockey and how much I love hockey. And about how much joy and fun I’ve had being a hockey fan.

Every once in a while, it slips out – my passion for the game. Like on New Year’s day, when our pals Hockey Meg and Kenny Ballgame spent the day on our couch watching Sidney Crosby and the driving snow at Rich Stadium in Buffalo and witnessing the best side of hockey come out for all to see (even if most people were half hungover and lying on their couches).

Hockey is a game for everyone and I truly love it.

Yesterday, I finally decided to DO something about it.

My wife and I rounded up the aforementioned Ken and Meg, as well as hockey blogger and pal Ed Frankovic, who writes an awesome blog here on WNST.net, and went to the Verizon Center for a Caps-Rangers matchup.

We did it up. Our favorite breakfast place, Mimi’s, is on the way near Ed’s house and we had a damned-near perfect day of laughs, hockey talk, hockey memories, hockey dorkdom and general beer-drinking, hot dog-eating family entertainment.

The tickets were a bit of a drag – the lobby was packed with Rangers fans trying to get in – but we bought $50 roofer seats at the ticket window about 20 minutes before gametime.

We got our money’s worth and then some. The game ended with 23 seconds of “free hockey” (what dorks like us call “overtime”).

The Caps, after getting their asses kicked most of the day with only Olie Kolzig to thank for the chance to win, actually DID win with a dramatic OT power-play goal from Mike Green on a wicked slapshot.

The place went nuts, the horn went off, and perfect strangers high-fived, hugged, celebrated and screamed. (I shot a lot of our hockey garbage for wnsTV…I’ll get it on the site soon).

I met with the Capitals marketing department about doing a first-ever “Puck Bus” to a Caps game. If you’re reading this, and you think it might be fun to join us for a Sunday game sometime before the end of the season, drop me a line at nasty@wnst.net. I’m just trying to form an “interest” group.

We’re going to make it family friendly and try to keep it affordable.

But I DID learn (or re-learn) yesterday that I still really love hockey, and I love being around “hockey people” who just love the sport and talking about it.

Take, for instance, the five of us. Most of you know that I did sports radio for 13 years. But before that, when I wrote for The Evening Sun, Phil Jackman and I used to drive down the B-W Parkway in his Nissan Sentra 40 times a year to see the Caps play. We rarely missed a game from 1985 through 1991. Those were the glory years, from Rod Langway to Dave Christian, from Rod Gartner to Pete Peeters. Good, GOOD times…some of the most fun I’ve ever had being a sports fan.

I met Ed Frankovic in the Capital Centre press box in November 1985, the weekend that Pelle Lindbergh died in a horrible auto accident at the beginning of the season and the Philadelphia Flyers were in Landover. That was the first pro game I ever covered as a sportswriter for The News American. Almost 23 later, Ed writes a blog on my site and we’re friends. And on the rare occasion when I do a hockey game (he hadn’t been this year either, and he worked for the team for 10 years in their game night crew), Ed usually gets an invite. He’s a Hershey highway warrior, with several “Puck Bus” appearances under his belt with his little nephew, Kyle.

Ed now has a daughter, who can say two words: “Dad-da” and “Hock.”

Go figure?

Hockey Meg came to me through her boyfriend (always referred to on the air from 2000 through 2005 as “Meg’s Old Man”). He saw our bathroom ad on the wall in Mother’s and wrote me an email saying his girlfriend “knew more about hockey than anyone.”
Of course, I asked the question: “What does she look like?”

Meg and Ken have been my friends ever since. We’ve attended numerous hockey events through the years – including Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in New Jersey in 2003 – and they are now partners in crime for Ravens games as well.

And my wife, of course. I met her on a trip to Manchester, N.H. five years ago last Friday — WHERE ELSE? – at a hockey game! An AHL hockey game, no less, the league where I began my career as a sportswriter chasing Gene Ubriaco, Barry Melrose, Terry Murray and a host of other really cool people when I was 18 years old and was just happy to be watching hockey games for free (and occasionally being PAID to actually watch them!).

So, I think hockey is cool because some of my best friends in world are linked through hockey, in some bizarre way.

I was kind of worried going to the game, to be honest with you. The last time I REALLY remember going to a Caps game, I took my son. It was probably 2002 and a friend gave me free tickets near the ice. We had a lousy time.

I “divorced” the Caps about 10 years ago, right around the time Susan O’Malley decided to change the logo when the team went from Landover to downtown D.C. They didn’t look the same, the drive was a pain in the butt and all of the players had changed. It just wasn’t fun anymore to be a Caps fan.

So, yesterday, I returned in an “open minded” way, and found that hockey can still be a great way to kill an afternoon with friends.

Here are some of the highlights:

•    Cute girls…for some reason, there are always pretty girls at hockey games!
•    Zambonis…and the dorky song, “The Good Ole Hockey Game”
•    Every time Jaromir Jagr touched the puck – at least 100 times — the crowd booed him mercilessly. It was great!
•    Olaf Kolzig STILL plays for the Caps. I was covering the team the day he was drafted in 1989, and he was actually a SKIPJACK at one point. How can you not love “Olie the Goalie”?
•    Did I mention that I wore my Skipjacks jersey to the game? And that I actually ran into another dude who was wearing one as well!?!?
•    The Caps don’t have enough fans, so half of the place was painted in the red, white and blue of the New York Rangers. So, for every “Let’s Go Rangers” chant there was the accompanying “Rangers suck” retort. Crowd participation is welcomed at hockey games!
•    Don’t ask me why, but there MUST be a huge Baltimore-based contingent at the games, because the roar was VERY loud during the “O” in the National Anthem. (Unless it’s for Olie Kolzig?”)
•    If there’s a more-tenured, seasoned hockey man than ‘Smokin’ Al Koken I haven’t met him. I haven’t talked to Koken in a decade, but there he was interviewing the game-winner as Poison’s “Nothing But a Good Time” blared on the soundsystem.
•    The seats at the Verizon Center (or whatever they’re calling it this week) are completely cramped. I’m 5-9, 140 pound soaking wet and I felt smushed. I can’t imagine being large and trying to watch an event in those seats.
•    There is no better “fan rule” in sports than when the ushers hold up the line at the portals when the puck is in play. It’s a built-in system that says this: The game is important! Let’s all WATCH the game!” (Baseball and football fan etiquette is just atrocious!)
 
Finally, lemme just say this publicly, once and for all.

If I EVER got rich – I mean really rich, where I didn’t have to worry about money – I would DEFINITELY own a hockey team and bring hockey back to Baltimore.
THAT would be fun!

If you’re interested in the puck bus, feel free to leave a comment below, but please email me at nasty@wnst.net as well.

Let’s fill a bus and have some fun!

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