A Caps Fan in Buffalo Territory

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Braden Holtby heeds the direction of Bruce Boudreau during Caps practice at HSBC Arena.

[Ed. note – Was it oversight, kismet, or charity? Regardless, Buffalo-based Caps fan and RMNB reader, Stephanie Carosa, got to watch what should have been a closed practice on Saturday. She shares that story and her recollections from the miserable game with the Sabres below.]

I live in Buffalo, so I have only two chances to see the Capitals in my own city. Every time they come it’s a big deal to me, and Saturday night was no exception. I was determined to make it a full day of hockey, so I planned on going to practice in the morning and the game at night.

The Sabres’ morning skates at HSBC Arena are open to the public, and you can often catch a glimpse of players on the visiting team hanging around. I got there early so I could grab a seat behind the Caps bench. Even though the Caps were foremost on my mind, I was excited to see Ryan Miller on the ice  after being sidelined for almost two weeks due to injury. Towards the end of practice, I caught a quick glimpse of Chimera in the tunnel. *Gasp! First Caps sighting of the day!* A few minutes later, John Erskine appeared *Gasp! Two Caps!*, and then Harry Neale (the Sabres and former Hockey Night in Canada color guy who is known for his, er, quick wit?) came out and joked around with him for a bit.

Eventually, the Sabres all left the ice, and that’s when something amazing happened. Maybe it was the unseasonable nice weather– who knows– but the hockey gods smiled down on me. No security guards spoke to me, and no one asked to clear the arena.  It was  most epic morning of all mornings; I got to watch the Caps morning skate!

Ovi takes a drink during practice. Eek!

Ovi takes a drink during practice. Eek!

I cannot begin to describe how excited I was, not to mention the fact that I was directly behind the bench. The guys started coming out before the ice was completely cleaned, so they all climbed onto the bench and chatted amongst themselves. It was surreal. I had come hoping to see maybe just a few Caps players, and now the entire team was right in front of me.

I was able to get some peaks at their mustaches while they waited for the zamboni to finish, and I can assure you those are some good ‘staches. Erskine’s is completely badass. My camera caught Mike Green and his ‘stache in a “how you doin?” pose that words just can’t do justice. I am partial to Karl Alzner’s though, and I definitely could see what John Carlson was talking about when he referred to him as “Luigi” on twitter a few days ago.

The practice was a typical morning skate with some light drills and the like. What I liked most was how much fun the guys seemed to be having. They were so loud. Everyone was yelling and making goofy faces. Ovi did a few drills, but didn’t stay out for long. I expected this and was really glad I got to see him at all. He definitely left an impression: he took a drink of the water bottle in front of me (while I wore my team Russia jersey with his name trying not to act like I was completely freaking out).

I left HSBC Arena on a high. And I still had the game to look forward to.

Semin sign was made by @kueble

Alex Semin sign made by RMNB reader @kueble

We got to the game pretty early so I could get a good spot for Caps warm-ups (like I said earlier, this only happens twice a year and I have to make the most of it!). The friend with whom I attended the game is not a Caps fan, so she got food while I waited. I ended up chatting with a nice woman in a Sabres sweatshirt who was excited to see Ovi play live for the first time. Nearby was a family of Caps fans that I overheard discussing the drive up from DC. My favorite, however, was the woman who brought an adorable little boy in his Ovi jersey to watch. She seriously said, “Okay, stand right here next to the pretty girl in the Ovechkin jersey.” Aw shucks.

There were a few great signs on the glass for warm-ups. The best was definitely the one that read “NEEDS MORE SEMIN” and “#sashafierce”. Ha!

Now I must admit I am a huge Sabres fan as well, so I never know how to approach these games. I try to look at it as a win-win situation and hope for an exciting game. I don’t know if it was because I myself was in such a good mood or the fact that I had beer for dinner, but the Sabres fans in attendance seemed to be in much higher spirits than usual. Maye this was due to the Sabres getting 5 of 6 points on their road trip the prior week and the return of Ryan Miller in net. The ceremony for Mike Grier and Lindy Ruff in their 1000th games as player and coach also seemed to get everyone pumped.

Luigi readies himself during a faceoff.

Luigi prepares for a faceoff.

The crowd exploded when Miller made the save on Ovi’s breakaway in the first period (right where we were sitting).  I didn’t even know what to make of it, because Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Miller are my two favorite players. I felt like a mother watching her two children play against each other. Er, maybe that’s not the best analogy, but you get the idea.

I screamed. I didn’t know if I was screaming because I wanted Ovi to score or because I wanted Miller to make the save– I still don’t know. Screaming just seemed like the thing to do. My friend said that Miller was motivated to make the stop because I wore Ovi’s jersey instead of his. At least the Sabres fans didn’t give me grief for sporting the red. The only guy who gave me a hard time was in a Leafs jersey, who apparently holds a grudge over the summit series despite not actually being alive then.

When Thomas Vanek scored in overtime, it felt like the entire city of Buffalo let out a collective sigh of relief. Even though the Caps didn’t have play a good game, I was glad they got a point out of it. After the game we walked out back, where we watched Capitals bus leave the arena, sad in knowing I wouldn’t see them again for a few months. We fans waved to them as they went by– and maybe it was just the shadows playing tricks– but it really looked like one of them waved back to us. That’s what I like to think at least. See you in February, Caps!

Photos from Practice

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Caps Leaving HSBC Arena

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Photos from Game

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  • Lindsay

    Great re-cap! What a lucky girl.. the hockey gods WERE smiling down on you!!

    PS–that first picture from the game, where MG52 appears to be looking straight at you… i die! Amazing :) Great camera work!

  • Mary K

    WOW!! You got some awesome photos. I second the MG52 photo– AMAZING!!

  • http://make-lemons.com michelle

    great re-cap and pics… thanks for sharing!

  • The Horn Guy

    That sounds like a good time. It’s great that she was able to have that opportunity. There’s nothing like it.

    Back in January of 2006 I and my lady were invited to American Airlines Center to see the Caps practice the day of their game against the Stars. It was surreal. We were the only two fans in the arena, sitting and chatting with Joe Beninati in the seats a few rows behind the benches. We wished Ovie good luck as he passed down the ramp to the locker rooms and he smiled and thanked us.

  • http://thehosers.blogspot.com Colin Bruckel

    Excellent pics… as a WNY native and a Sabres fan, I can say that I love watching the Caps play, as a ton of people from the region do. At least you can watch them in a real hockey city.

  • Lefty S.

    That must have been incredible? Not very often where you can be THAT close to them and get such fantastic pictures. What a lucky lady. And thanks for sharing your words and your photos. Hopefully you will be that lucky when they come back in a few months.

  • J.P.

    Nicely done – give yourself an ‘attagirl or three!

  • BobbyG

    Awesome re-CAP and fabulous pics! Brooks Laich takes great photos, but IMO the one of him smiling is one of the best of him I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing your good fortun with us!

  • http://twitter.com/stephy3930 stephy3930

    Thanks everyone for the kind words! it was an amazing day, and I’m so glad everyone enjoyed the pictures :)

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  • Volker

    Buffalo is the best place besides Verizon to watch Caps hockey games! Love the fans, love the atomsphere!