I feel like I’ve seen this person before… (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)
One hundred fifty-seven days. That’s a long summer for Caps fans. And Saturday night at 7:09 P.M. Eastern Time when six ounces of vulcanized rubber tumbled toward the ice sheet it was finally over.
“The atmosphere was great,” Alex Ovechkin told reporters after the game. “The fans push us forward all the time. It’s nice to play at home, especially the first game. I know everybody was missing hockey here so it’s nice to come back.”
The trademarks of Caps hockey were all there last night: Sam Wolk pursed his lips to his horn and let lout three loud blasts at the drop of the puck; Wes Johnson bellowed out the name of Alexander Semin (heavy on the “r”) after Washington lit the lamp for the first time this season on Sasha’s tally; William Stilwell, better known as the Goat, let out a thunderous roar of “Let’s Go Caps!” as he stomped the metal beneath his feet when shown on the big screen in the second period.
There have been pre-season games (eight of them to be exact) and practices — a convention too. But nothing lives up to games that actually matter — or maybe do not matter depending on how you look at it. And Caps fans were ready. 18,506 of them packed Verizon Center, good for a sellout crowd at 100.6 percent of capacity, a number that makes sense if you don’t think about it.
“I’m super excited that they’re back,” Caps fan Jenn McAdoo said. “I felt last year they were trying to stay angry. Let’s just hope this year they stay in the playoffs.”
The off-season, which like all recent ones has begun much too early for the Caps’ liking, was one of change. Former playoff stud and ceiling enthusiast Semyon Varlamov was shipped to Denver, though he probably should do some stretching before hitting the slopes in Colorado. Eric Fehr, too, now plays for another team. Same goes for Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Jason Arnott, Scott Hannan, and Marco Sturm (who was in D.C. for about half has much time as it will take you to read this post). But the team now boasts a new starting netminder — actually, that part might be complicated — in Tomas Vokoun. The D-corps have also received a veteran boost thanks to the acquisition of Roman Hamrlik. The forwards now feature the Hebrew Hammer Jeff Halpern along with former Moose Jaw Warrior Troy Brouwer and former Owen Sound Plater Joel Ward (I love junior hockey). And for fans before 2009 (those exist?), fan favorite Olie Kolzig is also back as a coach.
But enough about the summer. Now it’s finally time for hockey. Glorious hockey.
“I’m really excited for the season to be back because the off-season sucks,” said Caps fan Amanda Hill.
“I have to admit, at the beginning of last year I was a little blasé,” the Goat said. “It was really kind of the status quo team and there was no real reason to think anything had changed. … Starting on July 1st I just felt, ‘This is it; this is a regular season to be excited about because we could actually see a different team out there.’”
“There’re a lot of guys on the Caps that have something to prove and I’m looking forward to seeing them prove it,” he continued.
Washington plans do just that. And though they may be professionals, the team can still get a case of the butterflies.
Said Head Coach Bruce Boudreau: “The crowd’s into it, there are a lot of new guys. Nerves were there. It’s like the first day on the job and going into the office — you’re nervous. Whether you’re a 20-year veteran on the job or just brand new.”