Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Caps Year in Columbus

I'd previously blogged about my other hockey trips, so I thought I'd do the same for my little trip to Columbus for New Year's Eve.

I moved away from DC on November 2, 2011, the day after an overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks, a win that was almost a singlehanded effort from Nicklas Backstrom (scoring the game-tying goal in the last 30 seconds, and then the overtime winner). It was also the beginning of the end for Bruce Boudreau -- the game that stirred controversy when he did not put Alex Ovechkin out on the ice in the last minute of the third period to try to tie the game.

It was my last Capitals game at Verizon Center, at least for the foreseeable future. I went to every single game of the season until my move, preseason included, and the Capitals were still undefeated at home at that time.

After I left is when the team spiraled downhill, and it was difficult to watch from so far away. And I thought the next time I would see the team is when they come to Chicago to play the Blackhawks in March. After attending about 30 games in 2010-2011 and every game until November 1 in 2011-2012, four months without seeing my team in person was going to be tough.

On Friday night, I still didn't have any plans for New Year's Eve. Sam (Caps fans may know him as The Horn Guy) mentioned to me the Caps Road Crew trip to Columbus, but I thought the Road Crew seats were sold out. But another friend, Karen, also had a group going, and had a last-minute cancellation, and thus a ticket.

So I made the decision. Just 8 hours before I got in the car, I paid for a ticket, got a hotel in Columbus, and packed up my Nicklas Backstrom jersey to be worn to a game for the first time in two months.

It's only about six hours from Chicago to Columbus, and it was smooth sailing through Indiana and Ohio. My hotel was about four blocks from the Arena, and after a quick change, I went to meet up with the Road Crew near the arena. At the bar, I met Caps fans from London (Ontario), Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and obviously DC. Caps fans really came from all over.

After getting into the arena, it was almost like being at a Verizon Center game -- Caps fans were absolutely everywhere. Nationwide Arena is beautiful. Being one of the newer arenas in the NHL, I enjoyed the design and features. The concourses are wide, and the seating arrangement is unique and also functional.

We headed down to rinkside for warm-ups, and I practically started crying when the Caps hit the ice. It was so great to see them, and it just made me incredibly happy. Dmitri Orlov was called up after I'd left DC, and as I was at his first-ever AHL game, I was so proud to see him in an NHL jersey in person for the first time.

As for the game, it wasn't looking so good after the first two periods. But thankfully, the Caps picked it up in the third period and scored four goals in less than seven minutes, including two Ovechkin markers. After a New Year's Eve fireworks display on the ice, we left the arena happy and went back to a nearby bar to watch the ball drop.

It was no Verizon Center, but it was absolutely worth the trip and there's no other way I would rather have spent New Year's Eve. And the experience will at least hold me over until two months from now, when the Caps come into my hometown of Chicago.

Pictures from the trip (including a bunch of warm-up photos) are here.