How does one become a fan of the Washington Capitals? What makes fans don all manner of team gear and scream their voices raw in support of their team? For many in Washington it is a matter of long-time proximity-based loyalty: the Caps are your team, the team you grew up with, and they’ve remained your team through thick and thin.
For others, like me, you move to the area as a general fan of hockey and adopt the local club. Some may arrive with other team loyalties yet attend Capitals games anyway. Either way, at first you may just be buying tickets to see live NHL hockey, but over time you become a true fan of the team. As you get to know players, coaches, drafts, prospects . . . one day you find yourself a red-rocking die-hard and never look back.
For others it’s a much more unusual journey to joining the ranks of the Capitals faithful.
Patrick Loewen is one such fan. Patrick hails from Lynn Lake, Manitoba — 700 miles north of Winnipeg. As I type this, tomorrow’s forecast calls for a high of -18¬? F . . . and the wind chill currently is -46 ¬?F. This small mining town (pop. 800) in the Great White North has nothing remotely approximating NHL hockey, yet Patrick adopted the Capitals a long time ago as his team.
I met Patrick via Mike Vogel’s blog Dump ‘n Chase. When he mentioned he was hoping to visit D.C. around Thanksgiving, I suggested a few local sights and offered to take him to a Caps game. After trading emails for a while working out logistics, the trip was a go.
Patrick had never been to a Capitals game. He’d never even been to D.C. either so he had a full slate of tourism, though his priority was finally seeing his Caps in person.
“I flew into DC, landed at around 4:00, then came right into town,” he explained over pre-game libations at Gordon Biersch. Then we made our way to Section 426 for his first-ever Capitals game.
During the intermission, I asked Patrick about his unusual path to Capitals fandom.
“When I was about 10, I used to collect hockey cards . . . I liked reading about the players, and I liked the sound they make in my bike tires too. [Laughs] I don’t remember exactly what year, but one time I had all the cards in the set for that year. I flipped over the cards where they have all the stats on the back, and I decided that the team that had, on average, the largest guys — the tallest and heaviest guys — would be my team. And it just happened to be the Caps that year. Since then: Caps fan.”
And you’ve stuck with the Caps for the past 30 years?
“Yep, that was it.”
How did you follow the team from way up north?
“It was not easy up there. All we got was 2 channels, and for hockey it was CBC and nothing else. So maybe once or twice a year I got the golden chance to watch my team, if I was lucky. Of course when they made the playoffs I got to see a lot more of them.”
Who’ve been your favorite Caps over the years?
“There’ve been so many . . . Ridley. Khristich. Bondra. Langway. Ciccerelli . . . Oh, and Dale Hunter? Bulletproof. And now Ovechkin, of course.”
For you to have been a fan this long from so far away, what was it about the Caps over the years that earned your loyalty and respect?
“The Caps have come a long way. What I knew from the beginning was that they were a grunt team, a hard-working team. Coming from a mining town that’s what it’s all about — if you don’t put on your hard hat and get to work, you’re not anything. So they were the perfect team for me and they still are.”
Patrick, too, came a long way — and the Capitals rewarded his visit with 2 victories, including a shutout of the mighty Habs. Pat couldn’t have been happier.
I’m just glad I got to help a true fan from afar make it to his hockey mecca — and that this strangely small world introduced me to a great guy with a passion for Capitals hockey.
I spoke with Patrick again yesterday, and as one might expect after 30 years of fandom his enthusiasm for the team is undimmed by the loss in Carolina. Let’s let Patrick close out this story with his own assessment of the Capitals’ recent performance:
“Their play since this rash of injuries is nothing short of phenomenal! .500 hockey even with a healthy squad is tough, but with a lineup riddled with ‘first timers’ it is [almost] unheard of. A testament to the draft system, the coaching, the management, and the surviving regulars . . . and the experience that some of the call-ups are getting will be invaluable for years to come.
“This is a team built to last. It’s a great time to be a Caps fan.”
[Photo: Patrick Loewen (left) & Mike Rucki]