A Rink, a Team, and a Town Becoming One

It’s about time to begin awarding a game star to the home crowd at Verizon Center. The atmosphere there for hockey now has no rival within Washington’s sports landscape.
During his post-game show last night, WTOP’s Jonathon Warner, commenting on the atmosphere of Verizon Center for the Capitals’ home opener, told his listeners that Caps’ fans had picked up right where they’d left off last spring — cramming the rink in a sea of red, and creating an electric home-ice advantage for the home team. He was right. I knew Saturday night’s game would be a sellout, and I also knew that thousands would be heeding the Caps’ call to wear red. The Caps were raising a division championship banner to the rafters, and commemorating a remarkable turnaround in 2007-08. It promised to be festive.
But there was something distinctive about this hockey home opener relative to all others preceding it in Washington. In the leadup to it this week you could sense about town a prestige for this evening. It wasn’t just that the ticket was hard to come by, a genuine hot commodity. It was that there was in the city a real and pervasive anticipation for hockey’s return. Washington today seems aware that the boys in red on skates are a premiere form of entertainment. And the locals want to be a witness to it.
It’s uncommonly clogged trying to navigate the sidewalks of Chinatown before and after Capitals’ home games now, and the humanity moves in a common color. The drab grey and tunnel black of underground Metro is pierced by a blossom of rose-red love for the hockey team on game nights.
Saturday night I saw teenage boys and girls in the stands with their faces and torsos painted red. I saw women with red dye in their hair. I saw nearly 20,000 people attired and tattooed and painted and dyed in a common passion. And my sense was that many of them weren’t in the rink for one night only.
I first noticed a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the Phone Booth last spring, near the very end of the regular season, at the height of the standings surge. For the Capitals’ pre-game warmups a solid three or four thousand fans, uniformly cloaked and coated in red, encircled the team in its warmup end in the lower bowl, standing the entire time. They weren’t arrived in a typical trickle but rather amassed on time in a stunning show of solidarity. Ovi’s Red Army. Each successive game, through the playoffs, delivered more of the same.
I saw the same thing Saturday night.
About 5 minutes into period 2 Alexander Ovechkin knotted the game at 2, and this unleashed three levels of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” roof-shaking serenadings. The home crowd is so in love with its luminous left wing.
The best part of this is that he appears to be every bit as much in love with his admirers in the rink.
Then of course he sealed the victory late in the third Saturday night with one of his patented power slides across the slot and nearly-knock-the-cage-off-its-moorings wrist unleashings, sending the red rink into delirium. Comcast’s Lisa Hillary interviewed Ovechkin in the victory’s aftermath, and it seemed to me that more than half the rink remained to serenade him freshly with their “M-V-P” chants. Of course Ovi soaked it up.
These sort of dramatic and infectious demonstrations of love between city and athlete don’t occur every day or year or even decade. Cal Ripken was devotionally admired by Orioles’ fans, but in the stadium during his playing days, on a nightly basis, the baseball atmosphere was largely without distinction. In Verizon Center during no. 8’s shifts one gets the sense that 40,000 eyes are on Ovi; when he scores, 20,000 throats seem to sing.
Now consider this: we are merely at the infancy of this F Street love affair with hockey.

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10 Responses to A Rink, a Team, and a Town Becoming One

  1. I’m still hoarse…it was that much fun.

  2. Brian says:

    I admit I did not wear red…I wore a navy blue polo, comparable to the navy in the Caps uni’s…And a victory ensued. My new superstition for the season đŸ™‚

  3. TJ CAPS8 says:

    I was watching it on TV and you guys were loud as hell! It’s very refreshing to watch this team in front of a packed house.
    Every time you erupt after a goal, I get goosebumps.
    Good on you Caps fans!

  4. migz says:

    The game was a lot of fun. Watching the banner being raised to the rafters was something special to see, mainly because I can say “I helped them do that” by attending nearly all the late season home games cheering for the team.
    I’m glad that the house was packed, it picked up right where it left off last season. I hope these atmospheres continue all year long.

  5. Chris says:

    Yes, I was up in sec 405 and the chants were quite loud, especially late. You couldn’t help but notice this wasn’t just a ‘one night stand of casual fans’…

  6. Chris I was in 405 too. I can’t believe we actually won something…

  7. Wcapfan says:

    Great night!!!!!!! Not much more to be said that hasn’t been said already! This team rocks!!!!! And props for the Bears too – a SO victory on the road and the first victory for Varlamov between the pipes. Great night all around for this organization.

  8. b.orr4 says:

    “Then of course he sealed the victory late in the third Saturday night with one of his patented power slides across the slot…”. That’s funny, I thought Don Cherry said Ovie wouldn’t be able to do that any more.

  9. Lee (PTO) says:

    Section 405 Rocks the ‘BOOTH!!!
    – Row A

  10. Christopher says:

    As a Wild fan, I’m glad to see that you guys are coming out to support the Caps. It doesn’t hurt that you have a nice team to watch, as you’ve had some painful years in the past.
    Good luck this season.
    Go Wild!

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