Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Significance of Weightlessness

When I heard about the new hashtag for the year, #ALLCAPS, I thought, "meh."

I didn't really get it. Since I'm one prone to use caps lock a lot on Twitter, particularly about hockey, I thought maybe it was an allusion to that? I didn't understand the "we are #ALLCAPS" messages because I thought, "well, I don't play for the team, so, not really?"

However, after the parade and rally on Tuesday, I finally understood it. Watching the Capitals party through the weekend, and seeing them continue to act like over-excited children at the parade was an unexpected joy. Seeing the players' celebration shenanigans of the weekend, hearing their heartfelt speeches at the rally, and their invitation for all of us (US) to sing along with them to "We Are the Champions," I finally understood what they really meant.


Every single moment of this celebration has been shared with the fans. Whether it was through the players' individual social media accounts (Instagram stories have never been more fun) or splashing around with fans in a Georgetown fountain, the Caps have truly wanted to celebrate this championship WITH their fans. To invite their fans to become involved and feel like a part of it all. Heck, at some point during the weekend, TJ Oshie handed the Cup off (like, all of it) to a group of fans to hold over their heads.

I've never seen a team do anything like it. They very well could have kept this celebration to themselves. The fact that the players had the presence of mind to realize that not only they wanted it, but WE wanted it is amazing. And they didn't hold back on letting their personalities shine. Thank God they didn't hold back.

I remember back in the Young Guns days that people used to blame Ovechkin for the Capitals' faults because he "partied too hard." Every weekend, there were new photos of him downing vodka shots at Russia House with Alexander Semin, not to mention the infamous photos from the boat in Turkey in the offseason. Some even suggested that Ovechkin's relationship with his own mother was to blame for the team's downfalls. Beginning several years ago, the light playfulness Ovechkin used to share with fans and the media died down a bit. His answers in media scrums became clipped, and his tone during interviews was usually stoic.

Sure, he'd still goof off at practice every now and then, but it was evident that the scrutiny, year after year, was getting to him.

The Stanley Cup weighs 34.5 pounds, yet every time a Washington Capitals player hoisted it over his head at the rally, it was a reminder that the Cup represents a weight lifted.

I can't describe how happy it made me to see the old Ovechkin. The one who doesn't give a shit what words might fly out of his mouth in front of the media. The fun-loving one that enjoys being a goofball with his friends, dancing around in the club or even in the locker room at Capital One Arena before the parade. The one that dives into a public fountain and starts breaststroking.

It was everything seeing TJ Oshie drink a beer through his damn jersey and pouring it on his head upon his name being announced. It was everything seeing the unlikely hero, newly-shaven Brett Connolly just wordlessly head to the front of the stage and chug a beer.

It was everything seeing Nicklas Backstrom truly smiling for the first time since I've known him. He hasn't stopped smiling since. To see him share this with Alex Ovechkin, his long-time friend and teammate, has been so special.

It was everything seeing Philipp Grubauer, who I've been a fan of since he was 17, sprint off the bus during the parade and wave a DC flag over his shoulders and not let the dang thing go THE ENTIRE TIME. It was everything seeing Devante Smith-Pelly get all the recognition he deserves, particularly in the form of at least one, if not two "D-S-P" chants.

It was everything watching Nathan Walker, the first Australian to ever play in the NHL, score a goal in the NHL, get a point in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, and win a Stanley Cup get overturned by Ovechkin and Wilson. It was everything seeing Jakub Vrana make his case for favorite new-ish player when we hadn't seen all his personality before.

This team of wonderful dorks had been so missed. They've been stifled for so long, and seeing them let loose has been the best thing about winning the Stanley Cup.

Despite the lack of sleep, the intense sunburn, the days missed from work, I wouldn't have missed this parade for the world.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Finally

"You know the Capitals, the hockey team? I heard about this promotion where you can get cheap tickets with a student ID. Let's go to a game!"

Those paraphrased words came from my coworker and friend Jennifer Baarson one day in February, 2008. Both of us were working at a non-profit on 20th and M, my first job out of college. On the day of the game, we took an extended lunch break to Metro quickly over to the then-Verizon Center, went to the box office, flashed our student IDs (even though both of us were out of college) and got lower bowl seats for $30.

I played hockey in high school but had never been to, let alone seen on TV, an NHL game. Growing up in Chicago during the Bill Wirtz Era meant the Blackhawks were a completely foreign concept to me. At the Capitals game that night, I had no idea how much fun hockey was. Brooks Laich and Shaone Morrisonn scored in the first period. "Lol that guy's name is Semin." "I've heard about this Ovechkin guy." The Minnesota Wild scored in the second period, but goals from Eric Fehr and another from Brooks Laich sealed up the 4-1 win.

It was February 26, 2008. It is not an overstatement to say that is the day that changed the course of my life. It's the day I became a Capitals fan.

When I look back on it now, things progressed very quickly, though it didn't seem like it at the time. I went to my first Capitals playoff game that same season, Game 7 against the Flyers. It was my first taste of postseason heartache. That next Christmas, I got my first Capitals jersey as a gift -- Alexander Semin's #28. Less than a year later, I started this blog. I found Canadian junior hockey and started studying up on prospects. Soon, people were asking me to write for them. Like, reputable people. Only 18 months prior, I'd been making bodily function jokes about a player's last name.

2010 Capitals Convention -- with said bodily function joke-named player

So, I joined the ranks of the media, one of a few bloggers who regularly got credentialed. And I loved writing. I loved it and I was good at it. I started getting more attention. Once at development camp, a now-former Washington Post beat writer asked me everything I knew about a particular prospect. Me.

I never asked for credentials for games. I preferred to sit with the fans, yelling for goals, wearing a jersey, and joining in the occasional "ref you suck" chant. Side note, the Capitals were the first team in the NHL to credential bloggers and create a standard to regulate blogger credentials. I want to take this moment here to thank Nate Ewell (and later Sergey Kocharov) for supporting bloggers and giving press credentials to a little nobody like me.

There was at least one year that I went to nearly every home game. It was the last full season before I left DC.

A variety of circumstances took me back to Chicago in 2011. Around here, I continue to get a lot more questions about how I became a Capitals fan ("but... aren't you from here?") but my love of the Capitals hasn't diminished in the slightest. In fact, below is a photo of the car I got when I returned home (and I still drive it today).

My car is actually named "Ovie"

Even after I got back to Chicago, I was still writing for one outlet as the Southeast Division beat writer, even though I didn't live remotely near the Southeast Division. While I was searching for a full-time job, I was looking into graduate school. Doing a lot of sports writing had me looking into something I'd never considered before. I started researching sports administration/management graduate programs, and found that Northwestern University had one. I applied, and got in. I could do this, I could actually have a career in sports. I never would have even thought of it if it hadn't been for the Capitals.

Years passed, and years of heartbreak and disappointment can take its toll. In this season, my 10th year of fandom, I watched the least amount of Capitals hockey since I became a fan. I don't know if it's the disillusionment or the quantity of TV shows that are out there and I apparently need to watch, but for whatever reason, I just didn't care much about this season. Of course -- the one year the expectations weren't high, that's the year they win it all.

Once the playoffs started this year, I began watching every game again (with the exception of Game 4 against the Lightning, months prior we'd bought tickets to see Deadpool 2 that night). Once the Caps got to the third round, the first time since I became a fan that I'd ever seen them reach that level, and against the Penguins no less, I was in disbelief. Then the Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup Final. I was STILL in disbelief. Now, they're Stanley Cup Champions. Still, disbelief.

When less than a minute remained on the clock in Game 5, I slammed my laptop shut, turned my phone on silent and turned it upside-down so I couldn't see notifications. As the clock wound down to zero, I started sobbing. Nothing has been more satisfying than seeing Alex Ovechkin lifting that 35 lb silver shiny Cup over his head. Ovechkin and Backstrom, the only two left on the team from when I became a fan, skating around with it broke me (in a good way I guess).


It's been a wild ride. I'm beyond excited to get on a plane Monday and see the parade in person.