Editor’s note: To get you properly revved up for the season, each member of the RMNB crew will take a longing look back at some of our favorite goals from days gone by. You can call it nostalgia or cheap summer content, but it’s really a reminder: WINTER IS COMING.
I wasn’t always a huge hockey fan. My family were Hartford Whalers season-ticket holders, and they took me to an event down at the old Civic Center when I was 4. I would have gone skating but the goal siren frightened me away. I refused to skate and spent the rest of the night sitting on the bench with my hands on my ears. When I finally saw a game at age 12, I was an instant convert.
So: January 1st, 2011. The Winter Classic. Maybe the biggest game of the regular season and my first away from Home Sweet Verizon Center and in Pittsburgh, home of our nemeses. I wanted the win badly.
I was scared of having to spend the game sitting next to a loud, obnoxious, ugly yellow towel-waving, handlebar-mustached, Heinz mustard-stained Penguins fan with a Jagr mullet and a miner hat. The kind of fan that nightmares are made of. When we reached Heinz Field, there was a sea of people, a whole ocean of hockey fans dressed in white and black and gold and [powder] blue. And red! So much wonderful, brilliant Capitals red. My jaw dropped at that glistening sheet of ice. I was just so happy to be there. My stomach growled for the taste of roast penguin. Game on!! Thankfully, I didn’t have to site next to a Pens fan. I was surrounded by Caps fans (and one quite nice Pens fan and his young son).
After twenty minutes,John Erskine had an excellent fight, but it wasn’t enough; we wanted goals! Early in the second period, we got one but it was from the wrong team. Usually when the Caps go down a goal first, I get this pit in the bottom of my stomach, but that did not happen. I knew something good was coming soon.
And then came the Caps power play. In a blur there was a pile of bodies, a poke of a stick, and a small black dot in the back of the Penguins net. Knuble scored! Net crashed, game tied.
I didn’t expect what happened next: Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed the puck, right into the hands of Eric Fehr. I was standing in celebration, my Winter Classic-themed “Russian Machine” sign waving, red poncho flapping around. The grin that was on my faced was there to stay. Even with twenty minutes of hockey left to play, somewhere deep down I knew: This game was ours. We were going to win.
Eric Fehr added to his game-winner with this lovely clincher:
Shortly after the halfway point, Fehr takes a pass from Jason Chimera, and doesn’t look back. On a beautiful breakaway, he flips the puck top-shelf over Fleury. It’s one of those hockey moments I can still see when I close my eyes. Boom.
When that final buzzer sounded, I must have jumped ten feet into the air. Our section rang loud with the cheers of “LET’S GO CAPS!” We beat the Penguins in front of 70,000 people on their home turf in the pouring rain.
When I got back to the bus, I saw my friend Pierre, who had been sitting in another section, waiting outside. I ran up and gave him the biggest hug. Someone on our bus was blasting “Beat Dat Beat” and fist-pumping. The ride home was one big party (until we all fell asleep).
It was one of the best nights ever.
Nine and a half months later, I still have memories of January 1st fresh in my head. They will probably remain that way forever. But those two points are gone now. A new year, a fresh slate. And while the Caps will not be playing in the Winter Classic again for a while, I hope that this year we get to play on an even bigger stage. I cannot wait for hockey.