Photo credit: @emilymorgann
Coming into training camp, the Washington Capitals had a few question marks around their forwards. Brooks Laich was sidelined by a groin injury, and Wojtek Wolski was tentatively slated [gulp] as a top-six winger. But on Saturday, as the lockout ended, George McPhee got himself some insurance, inking longtime-Cap Eric Fehr to a one-year deal worth $600,000. The signing made a lot of fans happy.
None more so than Kathryn Barry.
Kathryn took pride in liking third and fourth line players more than superstars. A year or two into Eric Fehr’s tenure with the Capitals, she found herself rooting for him in particular. Fehr, a two-time fifty goal scorer with the Brandon Wheat Kings, worked his way up through the Capitals minor league system, scoring 8 goals during the Hershey Bears championship run in 2005-06. Despite routinely scoring big goals for the big-league team, Fehr was injury-prone and often relegated to a checking-line role.
Kathryn gravitated to Fehr by way of those Capitals-produced videos on their website. She found Fehr charming and down-to-earth, which one supposes are peripheral qualities in a hockey player and crucial qualities in a human being.
Those qualities were affirmed a few years back when Barry was laid up in hospital. One night during her week-long stay, she noticed a new message in her Twitter inbox. It was Fehr, whom she had never met in person, wishing her well and rooting for a quick recovery. Kathryn’s friends had told Eric via Twitter that she was sick and how much of a fan she was, so he returned the favor with some cheering of his own.
Kathryn cried, but that’s not the end of the story.
Barry and her friend Emily both had Monday off. To celebrate they attended the second day of Capitals training camp. Arriving at Kettler at 10:30. Kathryn’s first goal was to meet Fehr, her longtime favorite player, in person for the very first time. So after practice ended around 11:45, Kathryn and Emily stood outside in the 40-degree weather. And waited. And waited.
After an hour and a half of standing sentry in the parking deck, they ran into Matt Hendricks. They asked Hendricks if Fehr was still inside. He said,”Yeah.” So they waited some more.
Three hours passed. Kathryn and Emily began to give up hope. And that’s when six-foot, four-inch, country-music-loving Eric Fehr finally emerged with a few other players.
Kathryn asked for a photo, and Fehr obliged.
She professed that he was her favorite player, but didn’t say why since the players appeared to be in a hurry. Joel Ward heard that and said, incredulously, “He’s your favorite player, ever?” Everybody laughed.
The players left, and Kathryn and Emily got in their car to leave. And that’s when Kathryn had her moment.
“Oh my god. Oh. My. God,” Kathryn said. “I just met Eric Fehr! I’m crying. Oh my god. I’m shaking.” She wept in the car.
Maybe that’s a tiny moment in the scope of the whole league or the whole hockey world, but that’s kind of the point. Big or small, every fan and every player matters– and the connections between them, whether a homemade sign or an autograph or a quick message of support when you’re feeling crummy, are the most valuable part of a sport that is too often reduced to dollar amounts and shot totals.
Welcome back, Eric Fehr. You’ve been missed.
Photo credit: @emilymorgann