My name is Dave, and the first thing I need to emphasize as I begin covering the Capitals for this site is that I am not a D.C. guy. I have been, and always will be, a Baltimore guy. It just so happens that my favorite sports organization keeps its home ice within the District.
So, when it came time for me to get married, it also came time for me to enter the rite of passage known as the bachelor party. The first names on the invite list I gave to my best man? “A. Ovechkin, M. Green, N. Backstrom et al.”
We settled on Friday, April 9th’s tilt versus the Atlanta Thrashers. At the time I bought the tickets, the Thrashers were still in playoff contention and they still had Ilya Kovalchuk on their roster (he would later R.S.V.P. “no” to the bachelor party invite and get shipped to New Jersey at the trade deadline). Leading up to the game, I realized that we had a chance to probably see a blowout and watch the best offense in the league add to its already-gaudy totals, winding down a historic first place regular season.
Part of the package we bought came with passes for everyone to visit the Dewar’s 12 Clubhouse before the game. If you ever have this opportunity, run, do not walk, to the Dewar’s 12 Clubhouse. It is essentially three open bars and platters of delicious food strategically placed every 6 feet. I begin to consider if I should’ve looked into having my wedding reception here.
As we gorge ourselves on nachos, hot dogs, and brisket sliders (!), we gaze out the window onto F Street and spot a man with a swath of gray hair, eyeglasses and a pink and red suit covered in question marks. He is walking with what appears to be his wife, window shopping. “It’s…it’s…Nate Resco!” someone yells, pointing. We squint down to the street, confused and delighted. “You know, the guy with those commercials, how to get government grants to quit your job and stuff?” A quick Google search reveals that the man’s name is actually Matthew Lesko. We all take this sighting as a very good omen.
We take our seats in section 426 of the Verizon Center, looking directly down onto Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore. Our group of 10 takes up almost an entire row. If there is a bad seat for hockey in the Phone Booth, I have yet to sit in it. Maybe it’s the barley juice, but when I see Nicklas Backstrom wearing the “A” for tonight (in place of a resting Mike Knuble), my face starts to tingle. Good things are going to happen.
As the game goes on I teach my friends the chants, cheers and etiquette that come with being part of “Rocking the Red” at Verizon. At one point, my buddy Joe stands up to ask someone at the other end of the row if they need a beer. He is almost instantly met with a “Hey McLovin, sit the f#@% down!” from two rows back. No standing while the puck is in play, fellas.
The Caps pour it on the Trashers 5-2, and a little part of me truly believes that Ovechkin was aiming for a hat trick as a wedding present. He settles on two goals and the building (of course) goes nuts when he nabs his 50th of the year. After each goal, I could see my hockey-positive-but-inexperienced friends going bananas and my hockey-neutral friends joining the aforementioned group. I feel like Ted Leonsis entertaining wide-eyed guests in the owner’s box.
It seems to be a law that when 10 guys travel to and from multiple locations, someone will lag behind our flat out get lost at each stop. Our first casualty of the evening is Omar, who mysteriously vanishes into the crowd of red Ovechkin jerseys, despite being dressed like Andre 3000 on St. Patrick’s Day. “How the hell did you lose track of a black guy at a hockey game?” he asks, when we finally find him standing by the Metro.
As we fade into the D.C. evening for more carousing and less hockey, I look back at the horde of crimson-clad puckheads, draw in a breath of Washington air (a mix of cherry blossoms and hot dogs) and appreciate how nice it was to enjoy a game “casually.” The last time I enjoyed a game “casually,” the Caps were awful and they wore a disgusting combination of teal and bronze. I had showed my friends what it was like to dissect defensive pairings and think exhaustively about winning a Stanley Cup. They showed me how to get drunk and be a casual fan.
A chase for the Cup, a wedding, the league’s best power play, brisket sliders, my closest friends; it’s going to be a good spring.
Dave Gilmore can be reached at BaltimoreCaps@gmail.com and on Twitter @BaltimoreCaps.