I’ll admit it. I’m biased.
I inexplicably fell in love with hockey when I was five years old at the Baltimore Civic Center at an AHL Nova Scotia Voyageurs-Clippers game. I saw the ice. I saw the action. I was hooked. During my 40-plus years on the planet, many of my best and most personal sports memories have been made at hockey games.
Most of the people who’ve listened to my show or read my work over the past 17 years know of my affinity for the puck. We’re running our first-ever “Caps Puck Bus” next Thursday night (tickets are only $50 for the whole evening of fun) and I expect it to be memorable.
Last night, I made my first of many pilgrimages down to the Verizon Center in D.C. to see the Caps take on my adopted favorite team, the Nashville Predators. It was a memorable game. The Caps took it to the Preds early, at one point holding a 23-5 lead in shots and a 2-1 advantage. Nashville came back to even the score late in the game, forcing a rare OT shootout, which the Caps won taking a 4-3 victory.
Sure, Alex Ovechkin was missing last night, away with his ailing grandfather but it was still an eye-opening experience seeing more than 15,000 people in the rink last night all “rocking the red” on a chilly Tuesday night.
Sure, I’ve had my differences with the Capitals over the years. First (and this is no secret), I thought the combination of moving into D.C., firing David Poile, changing the logo and those hideous blue jerseys were all bad ideas. It hurt the franchise and it made me feel less connected after being a guy who for a decade drove to the Capital Centre in a red, white and blue sweater at least 35 times a year to see Mike Gartner, Gaetan Duchesne, Dave Christian, Bobby Carpenter and company beat up the Flyers, Islanders, Penguins and Rangers. Some of my favorite memories in sports were waving white pompoms and screaming at Ron Hextall.
I also had another problem as a Caps fan in the 1990’s: my radio show ended at 6 p.m. and getting from upper Towson to downtown D.C. made it impossible to see an entire game. So, I just went on a hockey hiatus in some ways, for nearly a decade.
Last season, the Capitals reached out to me personally and asked me to come back to Caps games. I went to a few games during the stretch run and wound up taking a bunch of friends (including Hockey Meg, Agent Orange and WNST blogger Ed Frankovic) down to games. For Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoff series against Philadelphia, we threw Drew Forrester and Phil Jackman into a car and had a blast.
Like I said, I’m a hockey goober. I met my wife at a hockey game in Manchester, N.H. I have scores of friends who’ve entered my life and stayed through hockey. My best pal, Tom Kapp, allowed me to take his kid to a game a dozen years ago in Hershey and now his kid, Tyler, drags him from rink to rink in his quest to be an NHL goalie.
Hockey can be infectious like that. I’ve said it many times: it’s the best sport there is for the sheer energy and action.
So, why have I adopted the Nashville Predators of all teams? Their one and only head coach in their 11-season existence is Barry Trotz, who was the final coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks before they left town for good in 1992. I covered Trotz’s team for the Baltimore Evening Sun for two seasons and we became friends. Trotz went on to win the Calder Cup in Portland, Maine the next season, got the Predators job before the expansion in 1997 and has been their coach ever since. For some reason, we’ve always remained close and in touch.
Over the years, he’s been a frequent guest on WNST and a great friend when we’ve gone to Nashville for games. I’ve probably seen the Preds play in 15 cities across the country over the last decade and I have a closet full of swag he’s been kind enough to send me over the years and I’ve always enjoyed rooting for the Predators because Trotz is such a special guy. (And think about how rare and unique that is in this day and age: he’s the ONLY coach they’ve ever had!)
But, back to the Capitals and hockey locally.
The Caps reached out to me with one message: WE WANT BALTIMORE TO EMBRACE THE CAPITALS! They asked me if I could help or if I had some ideas.
I said I’d help by promoting the sport I love in Baltimore. (If I ever get rich with WNST.net I would absolutely bring a hockey team to Baltimore and be a complete idiot about promoting it and making it work. There’s NOTHING better than going to a hockey game, if you ask me!)
Even without Ovechkin last night (most hockey people would tell you he’s the best player on the planet), the building was still mostly full and the atmosphere the Caps are building is something that should be enjoyed by any sports fan.
If you haven’t been to a Caps game lately, I can honestly say that you’re missing out on some great sports fun.
And it’s easier than you think…
The ride was traffic-free and painless last night (left the house at 5:30, made a stop and was still in my seat 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. start). They’ve done a great job branding their players and the “Rock the Red” promotion. Truth be told, Caps games are a LOT of fun and I’m looking forward to re-embracing my adolescence and throwing on my red, white and blue sweater more often this year.
We’ll be doing a series of “Puck Bus” promotions over the course of the season. Or at least as many as we can effectively market and sell. You fill the seats and we’ll continue to take hockey fans down to D.C.
Hockey has been gone from Baltimore for nearly 15 years. The only way it could conceivably come back to Baltimore is if I get rich enough to do it because I’m the only fool who would even think about trying it again after it’s failed so many times here. (By the way, I’m a LONG way from fulfilling this dream of mine so don’t hold your breath on this one! LOL…)
So, in the interim, I’ve decided that I’m going to embrace the Caps, go to the games like I used to and have some fun while I’m still young enough (even at 40 and aging rapidly) to do it.
Last night brought back all of the memories, right down to accidentally running into the legendary Rod Langway while I was grabbing a beer at the concession stand.
I like the Zamboni.
I like the action.
I like “The Good Old Hockey Game.”
I like shootouts.
I like funny Canadian accents.
I like the horn blowing after a goal.
I even like the silly movie clips (“UNLEASH THE FURY!!!!”) they play on the HD screen at the Verizon Center.
And most importantly, I love the game and the action and the strategy of the sport.
Like I said, the Caps are doing a really nice job down in D.C. with that hockey team. But the only way to find out is to go to a game.
We’re going next Thursday and we’ve made it easy.
Just pay the $50 and show up at the Park and Ride in White Marsh (4:15 p.m.) or I-95/UMBC (5 p.m.) and we’ll take care of the rest.
The link is here if you care to join us.
Let’s rock the red…