Saturday, April 9, 2011

Capitals Hockey from an Outsider's View

As many of you know, I didn't grow up a hockey fan. Growing up in suburban Chicago, Blackhawks games weren't broadcast on TV thanks to the beliefs of Bill Wirtz.

My mother, who still lives in my hometown of Barrington, Illinois, is of course acutely aware of my obsession with the Capitals, and she comes to visit DC a fair amount to see me. A few months ago, she mentioned that she wanted to go to a Capitals game with me when she was next in DC. That moment came this past weekend.

My mother's a fifth grade teacher, and her spring break was last week. Since I was in Canada the first weekend of her spring break, she chose the second weekend of the break to visit me. It happened to be the weekend of the Capitals' Fan Appreciation night against Buffalo on Saturday. I managed to buy great tickets at an ungouged cost thanks to a season ticket holder friend (thanks Addison).

The day of the game, I went to cover Capitals practice since I can only go on the weekends to act as media at Kettler. I took my mom with me so she could see a typical Caps practice and also so that we could go to the Team Store to outfit her before the game that evening. It was after practice that my mom revealed to me that the first (and last) time she had been to an NHL game was a Blackhawks game in (approximately) 1979.

My mom's definitely never watched much Capitals hockey, and basically knows Ovechkin and whatever other players I've babbled on about to her or players whose jerseys I've requested for Christmas (my first ever Caps jersey I got for Christmas in 2008, and I got my Mike Knuble Winter Classic jersey for Christmas last year). She knows the names of most of the Blackhawks thanks to more recent news coverage in Chicago. But that's basically her extent of the hockey world.

It occurred to me that she was attending this game as a total outsider - as what all of us start as. My first Caps game was so long ago that I don't really remember what my feelings were, only that I fell in love with the team.

We got to the Verizon Center, found our seats, and I explained to my mom the significance of Bill McCreary's retirement that evening and how most Caps fans felt about him. I guided her through the pre-game rituals: made sure she knew the puck-in-play rule, pay careful attention to the awesome opening video, stand when the team comes out, and remain standing because the National Anthem comes right after.

My mom seemed fascinated the whole game. She got increasingly into it, slapping her knee with a groan when Alex Ovechkin had a shot saved by Jhonas Enroth. Holding me back (literally) when I got into an expletive-filled screaming match with the obnoxious Sabres fans down our row (oops). She was amused by my participation in Unleashing the Fury, and told me that she thought it was a fantastic video montage.

When Ovechkin got the overtime game-winner, she actually cheered! She then said she loved the Ovechkin victory dance, and thought it was very classy of him to go and shake Bill McCreary's hand after the game (something I didn't even notice). We then watched the Jerseys Off Their Backs portion post-game, and my mom only said good things about the conduct of the players. It couldn't have been a better game to be her first.

I'd forgotten what it's like to be a hockey outsider at a Capitals game, but I'm fairly confident that she became a convert. Yesterday she emailed me to let me know that she wore her Kettler purchase, a Capitals track jacket, to school and was Rocking the Red in her classroom in Cary, Illinois.

We all were new to hockey at some point, and I can only hope that I made my mother into at least a casual Capitals fan - and not just because her daughter is a fan.