Tonight is a VERY special night. I have tickets to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series and it’s actually happening.
I purchased tickets about 10 days ago, not knowing if, when or how this $50 I’ve invested is going to take root and become a memory. When the seconds wound down on the clock last night at the Wachovia Center and the Caps (really, Alex Ovechkin, almost single-handedly) beat the Flyers to force the final whistle tonight, I knew that something good and fun was going to happen.
There is NOTHING that compares to the atmosphere at a Game 7 Stanley Cup playoff game. The only thing that can TOP it is a Game 7 overtime.
And that’s still a possibility.
Some of you are new to WNST.net and don’t know about my history with hockey and the Caps. Some of you have been on this ride for 16 years and have seen the entire trip – from the Skipjacks to the Bandits, from the Caps of Landover to the Craps of the MCI Center. I’ve done Stanley Cup finals. I’ve done puck buses. I’ve written about, watched and enjoyed hockey all of my life (much to my Pop’s chagrin, actually).
Some of my best memories as a sports “fan” are as a hockey fan. Because it’s the one sport I really covered as a fan, even when I was a writer for The Evening Sun and covered the Skipjacks in the 1980’s. I used to sit in Sect. 210, one section over from where Jeff Amdur brought his red fireman’s glow hat and yelled, “Skippers On The Warpath, Go Go!”
I still have a lifelong friend named Howard Scher, who I met 20 years ago in Sect. 210 covering AHL minor league hockey at the then Baltimore Arena. I also met my wife at an AHL hockey game in New Hampshire.
I love hockey, and the best part of loving hockey were those years in the 1980’s when I was truly a Caps zealot. When I wasn’t going to ‘Jacks games downtown, I was going to every game I could in Landover, especially when Phil Jackman would load me into the passenger seat of his yellow 1983 Nissan Sentra and he’d drive like a madman down the B-W Parkway.
The Caps of Rod Langway and Mike Gartner, Dave Christian and Bobby Carpenter, Scott Stevens and Gaetan Duschesne. Pete Peeters and Don Beaupre and Bob Mason were the netminders. Brian Murray was their fearless leader. They would ALWAYS lose early in the playoffs — usually to the Philadelphia Flyers — after whipping everyone’s ass from January ‘til early April.
They were classic chokers. But I loved them!
I went to road games in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Long Island. I covered the team, but I also was a massive fan who loved the exotic environment and blue ice of the Cap Centre. From the “Hextall-aaaaassshole” chants to the “Wup-Wups” of Larry Murphy, I made some great memories as a Caps fan during those years. Especially when we waved those white towels.
At some point in the early 1990’s, I lost my edge with the Caps. Once David Poile, Brian Murray, Terry Murray, Barry Trotz and Doug MacLean were moved out, and once the Skipjacks were no more – stolen off to Portland, Maine after years of drawing crowds of 1,800 on weeknights to the Arena for AHL games – my Caps fandom diminished.
And then it evaporated…
Part of it was the new players, who I didn’t get to follow so closely anymore once the Skipjacks weren’t here. Part of it was that I didn’t really like rooting for Dale Hunter (the dirtiest player I ever saw). And part of it was the fact that player strikes, league ineptitude and steep ticket prices kinda left me cold.
And honesty, it was a one-man show being a hockey fan. Most of my traditional Dundalk sports fan buddies couldn’t have cared less about hockey or the Caps. It was like a private addiction, being an NHL fan.
And then, the Washington Capitals committed the cardinal sin (in my humble opinion) of any sports franchise – they forgot where they came from and turned their backs on fans like me.
They changed locations.
They made their uniforms look like the St. Louis Blues, ostensibly to sell more swag (and ugly swag at that). And how stupid do you feel wearing a red sweater at a game when your team now wears blue and gold pajamas for uniforms?
I didn’t really know any of their players. And in Baltimore, the Caps were virtually ignored by the media and by my listeners.
The ticket prices were steep (did I mention that?) and the games were now moved into downtown D.C. and I was on the radio until 6 p.m. in Towson and they just really kinda fell out of sight, really.
It became a drag to think about going down there. And those hideous blue and gold jerseys with the big eagle and that crappy logo. It just felt like a different team. Not MY team!
And then they got rid of all of the games against Philadelphia, New Jersey and the two New York teams. They played a zillion games against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina, none of whom were even in the league when I was a real fan.
And, after Ted Leonsis sent me a series of crappy emails (he wrote some really mean stuff to me after I wrote him a five page letter explaining why I loved the Caps and how I thought they should market in Baltimore to the fans here who love hockey), I was through with them.
He was a jerk, to be really honest with you. He demeaned me, Baltimore, my radio show, my lifelong Caps fandom and it pissed me off.
After that, I actually hated them so much I bought a Red Wings jersey for the Finals in 1998 and went to both of the games at the MCI Center in it. I have pictures and the Stanley Cup actually visited my studio about two weeks before The Finals.
The Caps of 1998 – the greatest season in franchise history on the ice — were actually kind of pathetic. They were in the Stanley Cup semifinals against Buffalo and there were tons of empty seats upstairs for the games in late May. I drove back from a May weekend at the beach and bought tickets upstairs for $20 each with a coupon from Giant that day!
Both of those 1998 Finals home games at MCI Center were dominated – and I mean like 12,000 strong – by Detroit fans storming into their building. It was a disgrace and I always wondered where all of those fans who packed the Capital Centre every night went?
And then came the Jaromir Jagr years, with his salary, the inevitable whining and the inept franchise drawing 6,000 people for some games (it looked like the Orioles did before the Yankees came to town this weekend).
I honestly found it easier to ignore the Caps than to root either for or against them. It’s like they haven’t existed for almost a decade to me, nothing more than the Redskins’ neighbor.
The past decade, I’ve just been numb to most of the comings and goings of the NHL. And I’ve also remained a big fan of Barry Trotz and David Poile’s Nashville Predators, who gave me a thrill last week (I don’t actually write much about my Preds fandom because 99% of you who read this blog don’t care. I spare you my love of the Preds! But I do follow them from afar and I stay in touch with Trotz regularly.)
So when it comes to the Caps, it’s like a girlfriend from junior high to me at this point. But at one point, I LIVED for the Caps. And, again, this was my FAVORITE team for almost a decade.
From 1984 til 1993ish, I never missed a Caps game. And at playoff time, their games were literally like a Ravens’ Sunday. It was a religious experience for me!
It’s hard to say which I miss more: that kind of hockey connection in Baltimore or a real baseball team in Baltimore.
Right now, I’m trying to like the Orioles again (and the players seem to give me reasons to watch every night…it’s fun to watch them so far this year!) and I’ve been watching the Caps and seeing them embrace their old logo (as stupid as that sounds it’s a BIG, BIG deal to me and my sensibilities), embrace Baltimore in their marketing future and speaking to me with a no-nonsense coach (who I actually covered when he was a Skipjack in 1984 and a guy who was the coach of my wife’s team in Manchester that night we met five years ago), one of the best players I’ve ever seen in Alex Ovechkin and – voila – I’ve got tickets for Game 7 tonight!
And I’m sincerely EXCITED about going to the game.
Am I on “the bandwagon”?
Not really. Not yet, anyway.
Even with all of the action, it’s not like I jump out of my seat or really know much about the players like I used to. I’m just enjoying some good hockey and, sure, I’m pulling for the Caps and I’ll throw on my old Skipjacks Steve Seftel jersey tonight and hope that the creepy Flyers lose.
(It’s always easy to hate the Flyers…)
My wife is going, my son is going, Drew is going, Ed Frankovic is going…it’s going to be a blast to go with some folks who really love hockey and who always make me laugh.
My girl Hockey Meg has a law school final tonight. She’s out (which is OK since she’s a Flyers fan, anyway!).
I made a movie on wnsTV about my Caps fandom two weeks ago and I’ll definitely take my camera tonight.
The last playoff game I attended was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in Carolina two years ago.
The last Game 7 was four years ago for the Stanley Cup Finals in New Jersey, when they beat Anaheim.
There’s nothing like it in sports. Game 7 is as good as it gets in sports. Tonight will be an epic battle, I assure you.
These teams don’t like each other. They’re on short rest. It’s “old time hockey” when it’s the logo-stick red Caps vs. the orange Flying ‘F.’
And I’ve got tickets!
It’s gonna be another fun hockey memory tonight! I haven’t made enough lately!
Maybe I’ll become a real Caps fan again. Maybe not.
But I DO miss hockey and tonight is guaranteed fun.
What more can you ask for?