When was the last time, my fellow Baltimoreans, that you attended a Capitals game?

Maybe you watched the Winter Classic and said, “wow, maybe it’s time to revisit hockey.”  Maybe you watch every Caps game on CSN and think “I need to get down there one of these days.”  Or, maybe you just really love Chinese food and need an excuse to drive an hour for the best dumplings south of Manhattan.

Oh, the trials of being a Caps fan in Baltimore.  Gone are the days when you can get a hockey fix by sauntering down to the Civic Center/Baltimore Arena/First Mariner Arena and take in a Skipjacks/Bandits game.  The Caps are our hockey team, 100 percent.  So, how does one properly enjoy the team from 40 arduous miles away?

If you are going to get down to a game, I have some helpful tips for you.

  • Where to get tickets? Regardless of how big or small a game it is, the Caps sell out.  This is misleading, as they do “sell” out, but they certainly don’t fill the arena every night.  Getting tickets is not difficult.  To deal with a real person, avoid scams, and not pay any extra fees, just search Twitter for “#Caps” and “tickets.”  There are hundreds of Caps fans looking to sell and buy with people who share a common interest.  I’ve sold a half dozen pairs of tickets on Twitter to Caps fans who I’ve then befriended.  It’s much safer than Craigslist.  Then, of course, you have the usual sites, StubHub, Ticketmaster, eBay, etc.  The Caps themselves are sold out of individual single-game season tickets, but they have an official TicketExchange (limits the selling price, but also includes fees).  As a last resort, there are always scalpers in front of Verizon Center and D.C.’s finest seem to look the other way.  It’s a hot ticket, but it’s not a tough ticket.  Expect to pay more for games against opponents that will draw a good crowd, like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Rangers, and Chicago.  For a cheap night out, try going to see New York Islanders, Atlanta, or Florida.
  • How to get there? If you’re going alone or meeting up with folks down there, and it’s a week day, MARC–>DC Metro is going to be your best bet. ($14 round trip MARC, $4 on the Metro from Union Station to Gallery Place on the Red Line).  Beats the pants off driving (gas, wear and tear) plus parking (around $25 in a garage near VC).  With one or more companion, the cost of another round-trip MARC and Metro ticket bumps it over the top, and driving is the best bet.
  • When to get there? I used to have a unilateral “on-time, stay the whole time” policy when it came to sporting events.  I didn’t leave an O’s game early ’til I was probably 20, and I had been going since 3 months old.  That being said, commuting to DC from Baltimore during rush hour has its perils.  You should get down for the introductions (and warmups if you can, they let you go down to the glass regardless of where your seats are) at least once, but if you roll in after the puck drop (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it’s not the end of the world.
  • Why is everyone wearing a jersey?!? If it’s your first visit to Verizon Center since the mid-90s, you will notice that people are a little bit more passionate these days.  The team jersey saturation is even more prevalent than at M&T Bank stadium.  This is because there are less people, and also, because the hockey jersey is the coolest piece of apparel a fan can own.  Don’t feel pressured to buy one on your first trip.  Street clothes are perfectly acceptable, with special consideration for those wearing red.  And, if the spirit so moves you and you do decide to get a Caps jersey, please don’t customize it with something like “CRYSBY SUCKS” or “BOO PENS, or MRS. OVECHKIN” or anything like that.  Don’t be that guy (or gal).
  • O! Remember life before the Nationals?  Caps fans do.  That’s why you’ll get to yell a familiar “O!” during the anthem.  There’s also a “RED!” cheer to.  That one’s optional.
  • Hold It. This is pretty commonplace for sporting events, but it’s religion at Caps games.  When the puck is in play, you do not leave or try and go down to your seat.  Wait for a whistle.  There a are kind ushers holding up signs to remind you of this, but if you forget, about 200 people in your section will not-so-kindly remind you to “sit the eff down.”  The last two times I saw someone not adhere to this rule, it ended badly.  The first time a guy was just a little too sauced to wait for a break to come back to his seat, and he mowed past the usher and began lumbering in front of his entire row.  A fight almost broke out.  The second time, a 13-year old girl stood against the railing on a concrete stair landing, on a cellphone, looking up in the stands for a friend.  She learned some new words that day.  An older woman finally grabbed the oblivious teen and threw her into a vacant seat to finish her call and silence the crowd’s groans.
  • When In Rome There are lots of little idiosyncratic chants, and traditions at Verizon Center.  Writing them all down takes away some of their magic.   Just go, follow along, and you’ll “get it” in no time.
  • Don’t overdo it Getting to a game from Baltimore, especially on a weeknight, takes some effort.  Nobody expects you to become a season ticket holder.  Just get there, once or twice a season and you’ll be happy every time you go.  I’m going to maybe 10 games this year, and I’m a diehard.  Any more, and it’d start to be a chore.  That’s what CSN-HD is for.  Plus, I can get up to go to the bathroom all I want, and the only person who can yell “down in front!” is my wife (she does).

Dave Gilmore is a contributing writer who covers the Capitals for Baltimore Sports Report.  You can find him on Twitter @HockeyBy30, and on his blog HockeyBy30.