Caps Hockey What Is Has Meant and Continues To Mean to Me
Thank You Ted Leonsis & Lincoln Holdings, LLC
[ed note] As regular readers of this blog know of late my postings have been spotty, with the end of Caps hockey for this season and an increased pace at "my day job" - one which I like and tend to work on and think A LOT more than most folks, a con to being a workaholic - that will no doubt continue through the remainder of the playoffs and the NHL off-season. That said these next two series for their respective Conference Championships are fuel to some musings as are several things that occurred to me during the last three games of the Caps - Pens "epic series." As such through the Conference finals I'll probably post those musings as well as my thoughts about the games and series in progress on a relatively regular basis. To spare regular readers from too large of a dose of my own, possibly less interesting musings, I'll not post those sort of things back to back. Today's post might be "a bit sappy" for some, it certainly isn't about old tyme hockey per say - not about how fun watching a Craig MacTavish - Dave "The Hammer" Schultz hockey fight was or anything like that. It's a plain and simple thank you to the ownership of the Caps for providing a vehicle and a forum for a father and teenage son to spend time together and connect better. Something I hope is not unique and in fact know is not so based on some of the other regular STH who co-reside during Capitals games with us in Section 103 of Verizon Center. As always comments and feedback are welcome and encouraged and I hope you don't find my musings too pedantic or even worse mindless drivel, of course if you do that often then I'm probably just "talking/typing into the ether".]
Well Caps Hockey is over for this season, hockey isn't over but since becoming a "real" Caps fan in 2005 and even more so a full season ticket holder in 2006, the emotional investment I make for NHL games wanes when it's not the Washington Capitals versus anybody else. I've loved hockey for 39 plus years. Growing up in Philadelphia, I became a rabid Flyers fan as an adolescent. I played regularly - street, roller and ice - in the "Joe & Mary Six-Pack" Northeast Philly neighborhood I grew up in. I was fortunate to grow up on a block with two other boys who loved hockey and who were only a month older and a month younger than me respectively. We had through our early teenage years we had a bond that was almost that of triplets and a rivalry that was almost as intense as three brothers each a year a part. The end result is we played A LOT of hockey. I was the only defenseman, my idol was Barry Ashbee. Rick was the best athlete and skater of the three of us; his real idol and model was Jean Rattelle, but being from Philadelphia his number was 12 and his overtly professed playing model was Gary Dornhofer. Truth be known, remember that rivalry, Rick was never as "scrappy" or "gritty" as Dorny. Walt was a rebel, he was a power forward, and his playing idol both in reality and self professed overtly was Vic Hadfield - gasp - a New York Ranger. None of us, least of all me, had the innate skills to ever even really think about hockey as a career. That became crystal clear to us at a couple of clinics the Flyers held at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation run Tarken Rec Center Ice Rink we played at. At least it surely did to me when I saw and realized just how awesome the skill level of two of the Broad Street Bullies, who always gave their time to community pursuits and causes - Don Saleski and Bob Kelly, was. My point being I've loved hockey for a long time and have had the pleasure of seeing and supporting two well run NHL organizations - first Ed Snider's Philadelphia Flyers and now Ted Leonsis' Washington Capitals.
Even being a huge hockey fan from way back though is not what drew me to the Washington Capitals or pushed me to become a Caps season ticket holder. What did that is that from July 2005 until the end of September 2006 I basically lived during the week in New York City while my family (wife and then 15/16 year old son) remained here in Bristow, VA. That wasn't the first time I spent a lot of time away from home for work, for most of 2 years from mid-1998 through mid-2000 I spent about 50% of my time in Ankara, Turkey. Both of those stints were very interesting and rewarding professionally, but as the New York stint ended I realized two things: A) I have a great and supportive spouse and B) I wanted/needed to spend more time with my son before his life changed and he went off to college. I needed a bridge to reconnect after being away from home most of his 15th year on this planet. During the prior two years and my year in New York I would take my son to games pretty often. We went to about 20 Caps games and 10 Wizards games in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. Even when I was commuting to NY, when I would come home I'd often buy either Wizard or Caps tickets. When you are 14 or older you need a reason to spend time with your dad instead of your friends. Realizing this, going to pro sports became that excuse for me/us.
As the summer of 2006 wound down and I knew I'd be home more, I struck up a conversation with my son while we were at the beach in New Jersey for our annual August trip to my sister's, formerly my parent's bungalow and he made it clear he strongly preferred Caps games to Wizard games and like his father he was an Eagles fan and had no desire whatsoever to see a season of Redskin's games. I guess I should have figured as much given my son much prefers playing sports to watching them, played roller hockey and at the time he was playing goalie on his high school lacrosse team. So after I was done with my stint in New York I called the Caps ticket office and it being in the middle of the "so called" rebuild, we were able to get two season tickets in a great location. So began our relationship with the Washington Capitals on a more than casual basis.
That first season, especially the first half of the first season was perfect for what my son and I needed and wanted. Ironically, transition of loyalties from the Flyers to the Capitals was pretty easy for me. As you may recall the Flyers finished 30th in the league standings and the Caps finished 27th. The quality of hockey either team played wasn't as bad as their finishes and records might have otherwise indicated. For my son, a goalie, there was "Olie the Goalie" so we promptly procured a black and gold "#37" jersey for him. For me, the decision as to a number was harder and I opt'ed for a #11 Halpren sweater even though he had gone to Dallas, he was an American, a local guy who got to Captain the NHL team he followed and rooted for as a kid - seemed like a good story to me. We went to 90+% of the remaining games that first season together.
The events were a great catalyst for us to reconnect - it was perfect. What made it so was a lot of things. Not the least of which is/was despite those struggles and the rebuild, the Caps were and are "a classy organization." The NHL doesn't have some of the over the top, poor, or totally unacceptable role models other pro sports who I won't call out here have as marquee stars. The Caps organization and it's players from Olie the Goalie to Alexander Ovechkin to "the grinders" were and remain fairly accessible. Even better is the fact you realize these are good and nice people who just happen to be world-class professional athletes. It's an easy thing to support and celebrate.
Caps fans at the time and for the most part remain folks you don't mind associating with or exposing your kids to. Sure of late with the larger crowds and the specter of more success we've all gotten more "passionate" and shouted the occasional less than totally clean response to something we didn't agree with. However, I've never seen things at Verizon Center like I've seen a lot of other pro sports events like the Redskins game years ago when my son was seven and a group of three drunks shouted for Norv Turner to attempt to do so many anatomically impossible things for over 10 minutes I felt the need to leave. Worse yet was trying to not answer the subsequent questions from a relentlessly inquisitive and persistent seven year old as to what the statements meant. By and large over the past 5 years of going to Caps games I've rarely seen or heard such things. I know when I've slipped the folks around me will politely but disapprovingly point out nearby children in our section, just as I do to others when they slip. For whatever reason, one of those quiet, polite admonitions tends to do the trick and keep us all on levels of acceptable behaviour and decorum. It's something I think most Caps fans want to take pride in - not being jerks - no matter how persecuted and long-suffering we feel we are. That too is certainly a lesson that I never minded my son taking away for our attendance at games.
Our second year as STH's was a little less intense for my son, he was a senior in high school, much more focused on in no particular order: girls, working (having his own money), lacrosse, doing reasonably well in his senior year, and finalizing his college selection and plans. I on the other hand was pretty hooked and had also found several folks who were generally willing to go to Caps games with me when he was working or begged off - which was generally weekend games when he was working or playing Lax and about 1/2 the weeknight games. The result was I traded in a number of games which gave me two weeknight games, one where I took a bunch of guys I went to college with, and a second where I took several guys from the neighborhood for a "guys night out." They were two awesome nights and a lot of fun. I'd love to do this more but two things have happened which are positive that make doing that like I did both those first two seasons unlikely: a) I now have a partner for our tickets so we miss fewer games and b) there aren't as many good seats available when you trade tickets in. In any case more importantly, that second season solidified going to Caps games as a reason to spend time together as father and son. In addition during the 2007 - 2008 season so much happened to be storybook. First and foremost, my son made his college selection and gained admittance to my alma mater - The United States Merchant Marine Academy. (Gotcha didn't I you thought I was going to lapse into the great comeback the Caps made last year to make the playoffs - that was awesome too - but nothing compared to the pride a father feels when the former occurs.) The Caps made the playoffs and won the Southeast Division. Bruce Boudreau won the Jack Adams. Alexander Ovechkin won just about every other possible individual honer available and it became clear the Caps were a talented and deep hockey club ready to take the next step. Also very importantly they were awesomely fun to watch.
When I renewed my seats this season I delayed however because I knew my main reason for going to hockey games was going to be living and going to school on Long Island, New York and since I tend to bellow "LETS GO CAPS" very loudly at least five to ten times a period, my wife prefers other things to going to Caps games with me. Then however, one of my classmates who had been to the game with us the prior February indicated he wanted to split the tickets. We did that, of course being slow to renew I lost my aisle seats in section 103 and had to move to interior seats in the section. Though I'm now on folding seats in the corner, if anything our sight lines are better since we are three rows higher. I'd still like our aisle stadium folding seats back, but I doubt that is going to happen, I noted the young couple who picked them up were at A LOT of games together, at least those seats went to folks who seem to be "real fans". On the plus side, my son and I went to a number of games together over Christmas Break and one during spring break - that was a lot of fun. Tom, my classmate and I had a great time at some of the playoffs together and Capitals Hockey continues to be a catalyst for me to escape from the cares and pressures of everyday life. The Capitals continue to be an organization I feel very, very comfortable supporting top to bottom and a fan base I'm more than happy to be counted among.
So for all those things, as much or more than for the obvious things like putting a world class hockey team on the ice, to Ted Leonsis, the other partners in Lincoln Holdings, LLC, the management, and the players of the Washington Capitals, I just wanted to publicly say -