A Far-Flung Fan’s First Visit to His Hockey Home

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.

Lynn Lake Sunrise, photo from lynnlake.ca

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.”

Patrick Loewen's First Capitals Game (with Mike Rucki).JPG

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]

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20 Responses to A Far-Flung Fan’s First Visit to His Hockey Home

  1. Jessie says:

    automatically, i love this guy!
    For some reason I feel that, as Caps fans, we’re somehow more loyal than other team’s fans. I think maybe it’s because when we became Caps fans, it wasn’t just about the sport, but also about the perseverance, the youth, the effort, the fairy tale story of it all. I think that the Caps are a team easily identified with, both on the ice and off. For me personally, it’s nice to see a group fueled with so much passion finally getting rewarded. I’ve only been a fan for 3 years (since I’ve started watching hockey), but I get the feeling that in 30 years time, I will, a la Patrick, still be an unflinching Caps fan.

  2. Jimmy Jazz says:

    The psychology of the fan is certainly interesting. If you asked me why I’ve been a loyal Caps fan for so long, I wouldn’t be able to provide a logical answer.
    Can we stop referring to the fanbase as “red rockers,” please? It sounds like a collection of backup vocals for Prince.

  3. chanuck says:

    First of all Great write up and also Great to be able to meet and hang with Pat when he was here. It is always a wonderful thing to meet a rabid Caps fan, especially from that far away. Pat you are always welcome back and we will tip back a few more before and after a game.

  4. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Thanks for the commnents Jessie & Jimmy.
    And Jimmy, as much as I love Rock the Red as the Caps’ slogan and campaign, I agree that “red rockers” should be limited when talking about Caps fans… whether Prince backup singers or a parachute-pants-clad Sammy Hagar, the associated images aren’t ideal… 🙂

  5. The Last of the Duke Street Kings says:

    C’mon Jimmy, there are many ways to be a Caps fan, but There’s Only One Way To Rock!

  6. Tommy says:

    Great post… but I still can’t seem to warm up from the fact that it’s -18 up there.

  7. NS2NOVA says:

    Actually, that whole Celcius temperature thing is a scam we Canadians have been pulling on you Americans to keep you from coming up and taking over, and drinking our beer. 😉

  8. Flying Cloud says:

    Thanks for that great story. Pat’s analysis is spot on. The mark of a great fan, besides their knowledge, is their willingness and perseverance to overcome any obstacle in order to participate fully in the festivities. Also, there are few things more satisfying than making opportunities to participate available, then to stand back and watch the magic.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Nice article, summed it up pretty well. The Caps probably are my second favorite team exactly for the proximity reasons you listed. I’ll always love my Devils though.

  10. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    If Patrick’s story has you reflecting on your own beginnings of Capitals fandom, check out Tic Tac Toe Hockey; they’re running a contest to see who can best explain the genesis of hard-core fans.

  11. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Mind you, I said “the genesis of hard-core fans,” not the hard-core fans of Genesis. 🙂

  12. ThunderWeenie says:

    Great story, OC. Patrick has picked a great bunch of folks to plug into. The sense of camaraderie, friendship, and fun is what makes OFB so different from most other hockey sites and blogs.
    As a fan currently going through the “thin” end of the thick-and-thin cycle (Ottawa…groan…), I certainly understand what it truly means to be a fan.
    Cheers, and hope to see y’all in DC soon.
    TW

  13. Mike says:

    Well all you Cap Fans should enjoy the position of first place in their division since after the NEW YEAR rings in they will start to go to their favorite position which is the basement REALLY do you believe that they will ever have a chance of wining the STANLEY CUP ????? As long as Crosby is on the ice they d,ont have a snowballs chance in HELL by the way i see Ovechkin is not as good as you are claiming him to be .

  14. Jessie says:

    hey mike- why would you post that? you don’t see us in penguins blog threads dissing your team. instead of raining on our red parade, why don’t you go support your own team instead? it’d be a classier use of your time, and a more useful one at that. i’m sure your fellow fans (and your team) would appreciate it

  15. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Thank you, Jessie, for a much classier reply than “Mike” deserves. Nicely done, seriously… and it kept me from spouting profanities on an otherwise pleasant evening. 🙂

  16. Jessie says:

    ehh…i didn’t want to get kicked off of the site for profanity :-[
    also, i just got very valuable advice from a fellow hockey blogger: “don’t feed the trolls.” haha

  17. Bob D says:

    The Whalers moved and Leonsis is way better than Karmonos. Enough said! I’m a Caps fan! BTW – Whaler legend Dean Evason behind the bench with BB is an added bonus!

  18. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Bob, glad to have you onboard — and happy to hear your franchise loyalties didn’t transfer to Carolina. 🙂

  19. ViewFrom426 says:

    Maybe we need a contest to find just one hard core fan of hockey AND Genesis

  20. Patrick says:

    I owe section 426 a lot for making my visit very special. Great bunch of people. All of you should be very proud of yourselves, you made me feel right at home. CHEERS!!

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