Last night the Canadian women's ice hockey team bested the United States 2 - 0. In doing so, they earned Canada's 8th Gold Medal of this Olympiad. It was also the first "even" match-up this tournament for either team and showcased just how far ahead of their competition both these squads are. It was a good game and the Canadians won it (versus we Americans loosing it.) To characterize the mood in Vancouver as "there is once again joy in Muddville" would not be understatement. While the Canadians "Own The Podium" expenditures have been subject of discussion, angst and some controversy of late, in getting their 8th Gold, Canada is now tied with the USA and Germany with that number of Gold Medals though USA still leads in overall medal count with 32. The Canadian women's accomplishment last night was this is their third straight Gold Medal. Three straight Gold Medals, especially in light of the already intense rivalry between Canada and USA in the sport is nothing to be minimized. Congratulations to both teams on a well played game. It was also very fun to see both these talented teams play a game where they were challenged and their best players were routinely compelled to raise their games. There were lots of good plays and good overall performances on both sides, but I'd have to say it was Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados' 28 save shutout performance that made the difference for Team Canada last night.
Today it's the Men's Semifinal games. USA vs. Finland starts at 12:00 PST and Canada vs. Slovakia starts at 18:30PST. No predictions but I am on record as rooting for a USA vs. Slovakia Gold Medal Match-up. Three reasons: 1) We've already seen USA vs. Canada, been there/done that. 2) I'm American so I root for the underdogs unless of course they are playing against USA. and ... 3) Mike Green, hey I'm like a dog on a bone about some things. Like I said no predictions but I will give odds though. Odds the Gold Medal Game will be a USA - Canada rematch: 50/50, why so low you ask, two words Kiprusoff and Halak. Odds the Gold Medal Game will be Finland vs. Slovakia 16 - 1 against. Odds it will be USA vs. Slovakia 10 to 1 against. Odds it will be Finland vs. Canada 8 to 1 against. There now of course tomorrow we'll look back and as we prepare for something other than a USA vs. Canada rematch I will once again type those cliche' words "...and that's why they play the games on the ice."
With just 5 days until the Washington Capitals resume their NHL regular season, it's only natural at least some of my musings begin to return to things related to Cap's hockey. In doing so I started to think about how much I enjoy going to games at Verizon Center and what a great experience almost the entire evening usually is when you go to a game. I've shared these thoughts here before - what a great organization the Caps are, how they clearly value we fans, and what an exciting brand and style of hockey the talented Capitals team plays and we get to watch when they play. From time to time I've also mused, all be it, much more seldom about the few minor pet peeves and disappointments I have and have had when attending games here in DC. I don't know why but my musings today strayed into that place, not in too bad a way, just more in a "if only ... then going to games at Verizon would be perfect." So I'm going to share my top three things I'd like to see change when attending games at Verizon Center and if these five things changed, then for me going to Capitals games would probably be basically perfect. Keep in mind I know I'm a tough grader on these sorts of things so i do expect some to possibly comment about what a "nit-picker" I can be. Three reasons/things that if only they changed, attending Caps games at Verizon Center would be perfect.
#1 - If only the folks attending the game would really listen, understand and heed the announcer's words to stand for the National Anthem(s) and join in singing "proudly and respectfully" instead of screaming the words "Oh" and "Red" in the middle of it. If that were to happen when the Caps return to Verizon Center ice on Thursday March 4th, then it would allow me to feel the same pride in our community's support for our Nation's values and what we strive for, to the same degree and with the same joy I feel when we all seem to express our support and applaud for our troops when those attendees are announced during the game.
#2: If only fans would understand when it is and isn't appropriate to do the College Hockey "Its All Your Fault" chant at an opposing goaltender and only do it when it makes sense, then it would let me know folks who talk about how DC hockey is filled with "newcomers" and "bandwagon fans" are just so wrong; instead of substantiating their claims. For example lets just think about how silly and ignorant we fans look doing the "Its all your fault" chant and attempting to taunt a guy like Marty Brodeur during the Caps 4 -1 victory over the Devils at Verizon Center back during the day after Christmas. Folks, first the chant was being done after every goal including after the Caps leading scorer and one of the best guys in the league scored on a breakaway. Then later in the game when Ovechkin scored his second of the game after "It's All Your Fault" folks decided to add a chorus of mocking "Maarrrty, Maarrtty, Maarrtty". Sorry, we're in Verizon Center, unless we're at Madison Square Garden and wearing Rangers' Sweaters that's just a big fail. Especially given that the game came shortly after Marty earned his 104th Career Shutout. Why you ask - let's review: 1) When an opposing team scores on a breakaway, it's absolutely NOT all the goaltenders fault, in fact... well think about it, if you are smart enough to turn on a computer and read a blog you ought to be able to figure it out. 2) Do you really think you are going to "get into" the NHL's all time leader in shutouts head by chanting his name in mocking fashion? ... and if by chance you somehow do so with say oh about 10 minutes left in the second period to play, don't you think the odds are even you might be motivating him to return to his usually higher level of play instead of being just very good? And in so doing, isn't that the complete opposite of what you're hoping for if you're a Capitals Fan. 3)Isn't it just dumb and isn't that what we all look like thanks to you're less than completely well thought out behaviour? 4) By not doing it, you would save me from having to explain to an inquiring new fan, what that's all about and the right way to do it. Speaking of which, to get this all sorted out perhaps Ted Leonsis would consider springing for the fans in Sections 107, 108, and 109 who seem to just not understand these nuances but are so determined to make this cheer part of their game day experience, to go up to Boston and watch a few Hockey East games so they get proper tutoring in the subject at the source.
#3: If only the food choices were better and the lines for it shorter. The food choices inside Verizon Center are limited and the quality is adequate but not exceptional. Of course the food choices outside Verizon Center are many, varied and good so as long as you get to the Arena Area early and eat before entering the game it's not that big a deal. However, the real disappointment comes on games that start at noon on Sunday. There's really nothing that qualifies as breakfast or brunch food available inside Verizon Center except for Dunkin' Donuts and on those days the line for those donuts is outrageous. Also most of the places around Verizon Center don't open till 11:00AM so the choices are limited and if you go that route you are rushed, unless you have a reservation at Clyde's but that's still crowded and you are still somewhat rushed. It would be so perfect if the concessionaire would put together a new plan and approach with in seat service at least in the lower level, if not throughout the entire arena that includes more and better choices. it's clear some folks must be looking at improving in this are as I've seen some new choices popping up, but with every game being a sellout the inadequacies in this area have become even more noticeable this season.
Of course in recognition of "equal time" here's my 40 reasons why I gladly support the Capitals - e.g "The Good about Caps Hockey":
1) Caps Ownership & Front Office Staff: Clearly the Caps are the best deal, and best run of the DC pro sports teams these days. One only has to go to a Redskins or Nationals Game or even a Wizards game to realize how much better an experience going to a Caps game is - and that's not just because of the quality of the game on the playing surface. It's also because of the quality of the experience in the stands and in dealing with the organization if you are a "planholder". The Caps front office clearly understands and treats it's fan base as what it is - paying customers who deserved to be well treated. I've said this before and I'll say it again, we've been season ticket holders since 2005 and things have just gotten better and better. True this season, because of the large number of season planholder sales and sellout games we no longer have the luxury of "trade-in games" but that really doesn't matter since we can easily sell unused tickets for fair value and we still get treated well, all the time. After all the reason we no longer have that option is we have something we all wanted even more, a winning, popular, vibrant team.
2) The Caps Players and Coaching Staff: Throughout the entire NHL the athletes and coaches are very visible, accessible, approachable and involved in their communities. The Capitals are no different and are in fact as involved and approachable as ever; even as they have ascended to one of the league's bigger road draws, they are also approachable to fans in other NHL cities as well. The other key fact is they are down to earth, nice people from everything one can tell when you have those brief interactions with them here around DC.
3) The Style of Play When The Caps Practice Their Craft: I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Caps are usually the most fun team in the NHL to watch. They play an up-tempo style that is exciting and creates opportunities for exciting and fun to watch skilled hockey. For example, during that December 26th game against the Devils, there was a play in the second period Green - Ovechkin - Backstrom - Semin - Backstrom - Ovechkin that Martin Brodeur made a great save to keep out of the net. The Caps didn't score that time but it might have been the best play of the night in many ways. Some will read this and say - "Too many fancy passes..." but that time the Caps had no choice, it wasn't until Ovechkin got the puck the second time that anybody had a decent shooting lane. The speed at which a Caps game is played is pretty intense. Most nights when you go to Verizon Center a game starts at 7:00PM and you are heading to your car at or before 9:30. Given that the game and the intermissions between periods account for a "running time" of 1:31:00, and more often then not games are televised and there are TV timeouts at most stoppages of play; the games are moving as fast or faster then one would expect. It's better then going to the best current action films on most nights.
4) The fans who know the game and cheer appropriately. Simply put most hockey fans are indeed fans and know the game, that's no less true at Verizon Center than it is anywhere else in the NHL. They also respect folks around them and you don't get too many stupid folks screaming foul language of the sort you see at an NFL game. You also don't see nearly as many really inebriated folks so those two things might be related, eh?
5 - 39) The Washington Capitals Themselves: Look at that lineup - starting with Ovechkin and ending with Neuvirth, there's really not a guy on that list that I don't think can play the game well and isn't fun to watch them doing it?
40) The Caps 2010 Winter Olympians: The Caps should have at least 5 guys going to the Olympics: Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Semyon Varlamov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tomas Fleischmann. Every game was a virtual all star game of sorts but an all star game where the stars had to really play and play hard to win, not just a really nice and fun exhibition game. The Olympics are just cool. So is the fact the NHL is smart enough to understand, it needs to be about the game and the overall integrity of sport, not just about what's easiest for the NHL Board of Governors or about $$$. (hint, hint, hint going forward boys).
So as we settle in to today's daily grind...
U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A
Next up for the Washington Capitals the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo, hopefully the Caps will be looking to give Ryan Miller his first loss in a couple of weeks when that game takes place.