Pat Fay poses with a drawing of her late husband. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)
Way back in 1995 when I started fervently supporting the Washington Capitals, I got my news on the team from two sources: The Washington Post and The Washington Times. While the Post cycled through beat writers such as Rachel Alexander (who can now be seen on ESPN), Jason La Canfora, and Tarik El Bashir, you always knew what the byline would read on any Caps stories printed by the Times.
Dave Fay was old school. A hard worker. A stickler for the details. Some would even call him a curmudgeon. Starting at the Times at its inception in 1982, the Massachusetts native worked there for 25 years until his death in 2007, spending all but two on the Caps beat.
“I never thought a guy who was so grumpy could be so loved,” Capitals General Manager George McPhee told the A.P. after his passing. “He had a crusty exterior but he was one lovable guy. … Irrespective of how much he beat us up in the paper the day before, we always looked forward to seeing him the next day.”
In a time when newspapers were the only medium to keep up to date with your team, Fay always delivered. Even if I read about a particular thing in the Post, I would always check out the Times for his story because Fay always made it insightful and interesting in his own way.
And I wasn’t the only one who thought that. In November of 2007, Fay was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, four months after his death. His wife, Pat, accepted the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award on his behalf.
I never had the chance to meet or talk to Dave Fay as a kid. But on Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak with Pat, the person who knew him best, after the charity hockey game at Kettler held in his memory. Below is the transcript of our conversation.
Ian Oland – How did the charity game start?
Pat Fay – Dave died in 2007 — in July of 2007, and right after Dave passed away, I got a call from Rob Keaton that said, “You know, hey, we want to do something — little pick-up game, no big deal. We raise funds monthly for Hockey Fights Cancer,” he said, “and we’d like to do our July game in honor of Dave.” So I said, “Hey, great, that’s perfect.” He said, “And we’d like to have you come.” So we showed up and this has what’s been born of it. Every year it gets a little better, every year we get more people involved, and it’s just a great time.
Ian Oland – How proud were you of his longevity?
Pat Fay – Dave was very old school. He came to work every day, he came to work prepared, and hockey was his life. He came here because he was taking an editorial job with the hopes that maybe he could get his foot back in to hockey and for a while he did editorial as well as hockey. After a while he said, “You know what, I don’t want to be behind a desk. This is where I want to be, this is what I love to do.” I said, “Not too many people get a chance to do that, so you do what you need to do.” And the hockey family has just embraced us. They’ve always been very supportive, and now it’s time for me to pay it back, pay it forward, and that’s what I do when I come here. I just love coming here. It makes this month so important because this was the month that Dave passed away. So for me, it uplifts me instead of making me sad.”
Ian Oland – How have you gotten so many former Caps to attend?
Pat Fay – [Rob Keaton]’s been contacting them every time we’ve had a game and they’ve always been more than willing to come out and they’re always right there. Today when I was out on the ice, I think it was Yvon [Lebre] said, “You know, Dave was just great guy.” And it’s true. He loved them and they loved him back.
Ian Oland – Is your family still Caps fans?
Pat Fay – We are. We don’t get to go as much. You have to watch your budget, conserve your money. We still watch at home and I still hear from people. A lot of the fans have become close friends so I still hear from them. I try to stay in touch with the hockey community. Ted [Leonsis] has always been a great supporter, George [McPhee] too, and they’ve always helped us out with items and things like that. I’ll just keep coming back until they tell me not to come back any more.
Ian Oland – So Dave’s nickname was Dr. Puck? What’s the story behind that?
Pat Fay – When he first came [here], he wrote this column and nobody knew who wrote it and it said, Dr. Puck says, and he would do a lot of tongue and cheek stuff about the players, about different things going on in the hockey world. So after awhile, people would just call him — they didn’t know who it was and they said they had they’re suspicions it was Dave. And when he got his one car, he said, “You know what, I’m going to put Dr. Puck on my car and see who notices.” So he did. He’d show up and everybody would say, “Hey, Doc, how are you?” It just stuck. After he passed away, I still have his vehicle, I still have his plates — I cannot give them up. It’s a funny little story but it took a long time for people to find out who was writing it but once they realized the humor, they knew who it was.
Ian Oland – What was your favorite moment during his time on the beat?
Pat Fay – I’d have to say when [the Capitals] were in the ’98 Finals. I purchased my ticket and got to go to the game, and even though they didn’t make it, it’s one thing to be there and see your team lose, but it’s also another thing to sit there and just take it all in. See that when that puck comes out, see the camaraderie in those guys. One minute they’re out there working as hard as they can, trying to win the game and when it’s done they all shake hands.
And I actually got goose pimples. Even though we didn’t get it, to see the Cup in person being presented. And when Dave passed away and he got the award from the hockey Hall of Fame, I got to see the Cup again because I got to go in the Cup room and I said, “Dave, you’re not around the Cup, but you’re on a pole in with Cup.” He is, he’s in the room with the Cup so that makes me feel good.
I went and did the [Hockey Hall of Fame] speech for him — I’m not a speaker. We had discussed a little bit, because he knew before he died and I said, ‘What do you want me to say?’ He said, “You say whatever you want but just don’t forget to bring it home.” So that was my last line, “Honey, I’m here, I got it, and I’m taking it home.’ That was Dave in a nutshell. He was a character, he was a wonderful guy.
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.