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.







Bonus funny story time.

Generally, my life with the Capitals has been bonkers. Shortly after John Carlson turned 21, and only an hour after I had my first big interview with a player (Matt Hendricks), I was at the Front Page across from Kettler with friends Melissa and Molly. Mathieu Perreault wandered in and sat down at the bar across from us. Shortly thereafter, John Carlson came through the door with his brother, who was in town visiting. Practically the only people in the place were us, a group of three women, and Mathieu Perreault. John shifted his eyes between us and Mathieu, us and Mathieu. Seemingly reluctantly, John headed over to sit by Mathieu. John did buy us a shot though. Thus began the inside joke of a lifetime.

 
"I should have sat with the girls..."

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