All posts in hockey

05Mar

Tom Wilson beats up Flyers, who beatdown Caps

Philadelphia prides itself on toughness. So much so, they actually built a statue of fictional boxer Rocky Balboa.

While the “City of Brotherly Love” is busy fawning over make-believe pugilists, Capitals forward Tom Wilson has made a name for himself as a real-life tough guy — kicking ass and taking names (and winning the Stanley Cup, for good measure) during his seven seasons in Washington.

For reasons that will likely forever remain unclear, forward Nate Thompson and defenseman Robert Hagg each thought it was a good idea to drop the gloves against Wilson on this night. Harkening back to the days of Mike Tyson in his prime, Wilson dropped both would-be challengers with relative ease.

Unfortunately, the rest of the roster was unable to rise to the occasion in similar fashion, and the Capitals fell to the Flyers, 5-2.

11Oct

Caps Fans Are Still Basking in Last Season’s Stanley Cup Victory

For 44 years, the Washington Capitals were consistently good enough to get their fans hopes up. As soon as those fans let their guard down, the team promptly self-destructed in the most soul-crushing way imaginable.

Losing a quadruple-overtime playoff game—on Easter Sunday? Check. Being eliminated, time and time again by the Pittsburgh Penguins, their most hated rivals, rubbing ample amounts of salt in the wounds? Yep. Winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular season team, just to blow a 3-1 series lead to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens? Even the most cynical sports fans had a tough time bouncing back from that one.

Those postseason failures definitely affected the way many longtime Caps fans supported their favorite hockey franchise. At the slightest sign of adversity, panic inevitably started to set in. After decades of mental anguish, it was clear that Capitals fans had become conditioned to expect the worst. And, I’ll admit, I was part of the problem. If the Capitals were on the verge of being bounced from the postseason, I no longer wanted to be in the building. Rather than subjecting myself to yet another sad Metro ride home, I opted for the safety and security of my basement, where I could hunker down for the team’s annual collapse.

But a magical thing happened along the way—my 7-year-old son began regularly watching Caps games with me and, just like when I was his age, fell in love with the boys in red. While players like Scott StevensAl Iafrate, and Olaf Kölzig drew me in all those years ago, my son watches Alex Ovechkin “unleash the fury” on the power play, Nicklas Bäckström deliver the perfect puck through traffic, and Braden Holtby stand on his proverbial head to will his team to victory. And he can’t get enough of it. He hasn’t been around long enough to know what the Capitals have and haven’t done over the last four decades. He’s seen them win more games than they’ve lost, and that’s good enough for him.

When the postseason rolls around, my son is convinced that this is their year. And if it isn’t, there’s always next year. Watching games with him has changed the way I support the franchise. I’m far less likely to fixate on a bad call or an ill-advised penalty and much more likely to cherish the victories, big and small.

And then the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Charlie Brown finally kicked the football. The dog finally caught the car. The hockey franchise that was always its own worst enemy suddenly achieved true greatness.

Months later, it still seems unfathomable.

For the players, everything is pretty straightforward. Each of them got to spend a day with the cup, snag a ridiculous championship ring (retail cost: $12,018), and then watch as the team raised the championship banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena. Minutes later, the puck dropped on a new season. Their attention could no longer be focused on the past.

“I think that the time that I spent with the Cup, sharing my happiness with my teammates, with all the fans, all the people who I know, it was something special and you just want to do it over and over again because when you taste it, you don’t wanna let it go,” Ovechkin recently told reporters at a luncheon. “Last year nobody was expecting us to win but we won and right now everybody is gonna play against us hard. But the motivation, it’s like you just want to repeat it and do it over and over because the days spent with the Cup is something that we’ll never forget.”

To read the full column, head over to the City Paper’s website.

14Jun

The Powerful Redemption of These Washington Capitals

Say it once more with feeling—the Washington Capitals are the Stanley Cup champions.

If it feels like the powers that be will have to pry the Stanley Cup from Alex Ovechkin’s cold, dead hands a year from now, that’s because most of us felt like this day would never come.

While plenty of locals jumped on the bandwagon during the team’s magical postseason run, diehards know nothing has ever been guaranteed when it comes to this franchise.

In order to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in the team’s 44-year history, the Capitals had to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights—an expansion team that rewrote the standards for what a first-year franchise can accomplish.

The Golden Knights won 51 games in their inaugural campaign. The Caps didn’t collect their 51st franchise victory until halfway through their fourth season of existence. While Vegas raised the bar for future expansion teams, the Capitals began on the other side of the spectrum.

Washington won just eight of 80 games in 1974, and secured a single road victory that entire season. Eight years (and zero postseason appearances) later, things were so dire that the franchise launched a “Save the Caps” campaign just to keep them in town.

Even when things finally improved, the Caps were mostly known for getting to the playoffs, and then collapsing in spectacularly heartbreaking fashion. To this day, no other franchise in sports has blown more 3-games-to-1 leads than the Capitals.

That trend started long before Ovechkin ever came to D.C., but his early days in town did little to change that tired narrative. While the Great 8 added plenty of style and flash to a historically blue-collar franchise, squandering a 3–1 lead to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in 2010 only re-enforced the belief that the Capitals were forever destined to remain “Choking Dogs.”

Prior to this improbable playoff run, Ovechkin was already considered one of the best professional athletes in D.C. sports history. As soon as Ovi ended Washington’s streak of futility after 91 seasons without a championship in the District’s four major sports, he officially cemented his status as a legend.

Watching Ovechkin hoist the Stanley Cup above his head was a thing of beauty. No longer was he a flawed and selfish player who cared more about personal accolades than any team goals. The weight of the world was no longer Ovechkin’s burden.

In its place, Ovechkin was free to carry hockey’s most sacred hardware—a 34.5-pound trophy that will feature his name in the not-too-distant future. But the Capitals’ captain isn’t the only individual who should feel vindicated right about now. No, this entire story is one of redemption for all the people involved.

For all of Nicklas Backstrom’s brilliance—with 799 points in 815 games—his 11 seasons as Washington’s top-line center have been largely overlooked and under-appreciated. While he’s averaged roughly a point per game for more than a decade, he’s only been named an All-Star once in his career and has been an afterthought when it comes to any sort of personal recognition.

The Capitals selected center Evgeny Kuznetsov with the 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. He remained in Russia until 2014 though, feeling he wasn’t ready to move halfway around the world and take on the challenges—on and off the ice—that come with an 82-game season. This decision made him an easy target, as people unfairly labeled him another enigmatic Russian head case.

John Carlson led all NHL defensemen in points during the 2017-18 season, but wasn’t named a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s top defenseman.

T.J. Oshie is universally regarded as the best shootout specialist in all of hockey, which is great until you realize that playoff hockey doesn’t include shootouts.

To read the full column, head over to the City Paper’s website.

28May

How to Be a Bandwagon Caps Fan

The main reason the Washington Capitals have always been my favorite sports franchise is that the vast majority of people reading this didn’t care about them when I was growing up.

My father worked with a guy who had a second job at the old Caps Arena, and because the building was almost never full back in those days, Tommy would regularly call us up and say, “If you guys can get here before the puck drops in 45 minutes, I have three tickets for you at will call.”

We’d rush to Landover, pick up the comped tickets, and find ourselves one or two rows from the glass. My family couldn’t afford season tickets, but because the Capitals typically fell in the category of “solid, but unspectacular,” I spent a large chunk of my youth rooting for D.C.’s fourth most popular sports franchise. The Caps fell behind the football team, the Bullets, and even the Baltimore Orioles.

While I could regale you with stories about 10-year-old me fighting to stay awake long enough to see which team won the Easter Epic (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the Capitals) or about the time, while in the U.S. Army, I got permission from my drill sergeant to miss curfew and attend what turned out to be a quadruple overtime loss to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins in ’96, this isn’t about me.

Sure, I’ve loved the Caps since helmets were optional and a goalie’s gear didn’t take up the entire net, but I’m the first to admit that things are much more enjoyable these days. Having the building packed with passionate and vocal fans who actually care about the home team has made the last decade so much better—even if I have to pay for my tickets now.

So I’ve put together a guide for bandwagon fans. Before you take out a second mortgage to cover the cost of Stanley Cup Finals tickets, do us all a favor and familiarize yourself with the basics about your Washington Capitals.

  • If you’re going to support this franchise, the first thing you should know—even before you try to comprehend the rules of the game—is that everyone in this town wears red. It isn’t optional. It isn’t up for debate. If you show up wearing anything other than a red t-shirt or jersey, everyone in the building will think less of you. If you’re going to “Rock the Red,” then “Rock the Red.”
  • What your choice in Caps jersey says about you: If you sport an Alex Ovechkin sweater, you’re either a 6-year-old or a bandwagon fan who came directly from Dick’s Sporting Goods. If you don a Braden Holtby, you dig the quiet, brooding type. And vampire movies, probably. If you wear a Christian Djoos jersey … you’re related to Christian Djoos.
  • Hockey is the original hipster sport, so while other games are broken up into things that make sense, namely halves or quarters, hockey has three periods. Look, we all know it’s completely ridiculous, but we’ve learned to accept it and move on. It has something to do with the Canadian exchange rate or the whales in Hartford. Or something.
  • Find a primer online explaining offside and icing. Knowing these will help you understand the flow of the game, and actually understanding what is and isn’t icing will put you ahead of most of the crowd, and many of the linesmen.
  • Never in the history of our country has it been more popular in D.C. to love all things Russian. Lucky for you, the local hockey team features some of the best talent Mother Russia has to offer in Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and the Russian Machine himself, Alex Ovechkin.

To read the rest of this column, head over to the Washington City Paper’s website.

17Mar

Holtby gets back on track in win over Islanders

Just 24 hours after thumping the Islanders 7-3 in Brooklyn, the two teams squared off again as the Washington Capitals hosted New York at Capital One Arena, March 16. Franchise goalie Braden Holtby, coming off a rare rough patch in which he was pulled from net in three of six outings, got the start and did not disappoint — stopping 22 of 25 shots he faced to earn his first victory, a 6-3 rout, in nearly two full weeks. While Alex Ovechkin did not score any of Washington’s 13 goals during the home-and-home series against the Islanders, plenty of his teammates did. On this night, winger T.J. Oshie, center Nick Backstrom and defenseman Matt Niskanen helped the Caps to jump out early and never look back.

The only downside as Washington picked up a fourth-straight victory and regained sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division was the injury to center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who crashed hard into the boards during the second period and did not return. After the game, Caps coach Barry Trotz said Kuznetsov is now day-to-day with an upper body injury. To see more of my photos from this game, head over to The Sports Capitol.

22Dec

How Jason Chimera got a beer named after himself

Head brewer Josh Chapman and Jason Chimera
Head brewer Josh Chapman and Jason Chimera

This has been a pretty damn good week as far as Jason Chimera is concerned. Not only did he score the game-winning goal as the Washington Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 Monday night, but less than 24 hours later the 36-year-old veteran forward joined an illustrious group of D.C. athletes who have a beer named in their honor.

Joe Theismann has the “Broken Leg Lager.” John Riggins has the “4th and 1 Pilsner.” And now Jason Chimera has “The Chimmer.”

How did this come about? Glad you asked.

Our story starts last month, when the Capitals held their fifth-annual Caps Casino Night. The event, which gives fans a chance to spend some time with Caps players and coaches in a relaxed environment, was a huge success — raising more than $300,000 for the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation.

More than 400 fans attended this year’s event, which featured blackjack, craps, roulette, Texas hold ’em and slots, as well as a silent auction. With apologies to the fans who graciously donated their hard-earned money for the privilege of bowling with the team’s Russian contingency or the cooking lesson with T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner, the absolute best item available in the auction was clear cut:

Caps Craft Beer Experience: Four fans will enjoy a chef’s tasting dinner and brewery tasting tour at The Arsenal at Bluejacket in Washington, D.C., with goaltender Braden Holtby, forwards Jason Chimera and Justin Williams and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Dinner and tasting was donated by The Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Now, I fully admit that hockey and beer are two of my favorite items on this planet, but how awesome does that sound? Considering it raised a whopping $10,200, I’d say the Caps Craft Beer Experience was a wise choice.

Turns out, the idea came from Chimera, who is a bit of a craft beer fan and who has been known to enjoy a tasty IPA from time to time. I don’t want to divulge too many of the details of the Caps Craft Beer Experience — after all — what happens in the brewery stays in the brewery. But suffice to say, Chimera and his teammates enjoyed their first time at Bluejacket on Dec. 1, and the folks who make the best beer in our nation’s capital were equally as pleased with the experience.

So much so, that just three weeks later, they’re rolling out a brand-new brew named after the 16-year veteran from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

“During the tour we provided that night, they were able to sample several beers — including an IPA that was just finishing the fermentation process,” said Josh Chapman, Bluejacket’s head brewer. “Afterwards, the guys were talking about their favorite beers they had tried throughout the night and Chimera said he really enjoyed the IPA. It didn’t have a name yet and when Chimera, who had set the whole thing up, said he was big fan of that beer, it just made sense to name it in his honor.”

As for the newly-created beer, according to information provided by Bluejacket, “The Chimmer” is a complex, fruit-forward and well-rounded IPA brewed and dry hopped with Azacca and the falconer’s flight hop blend. Punchy cantaloupe and sweet berry aromatics flow into soft resin and pine on the palate. Named for our friend and fellow beer geek Jason Chimera of the Washington Capitals.

The Chimmer

If you’re wondering why Chimera and not, say, one of his more heralded teammates, well, it probably has something to do with quotes like this from Alexander Ovechkin’s interview in the Russian edition of Esquire:

“Beer is the same everywhere. After three glasses, you can’t understand if it was good or bad.”

Look, I love Ovechkin as much as anyone, but that’s not exactly a stance that’ll win over very many hearts and souls in the craft beer world. And if that’s not reason enough, Chimera did spend five seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. So really, Chimera and Bluejacket were clearly meant to be together.

So if you’re a D.C. sports fan looking for a friendly place to take in a Caps game, you might want to consider Bluejacket, located near Navy Yard. The two-year-old brewery has good food, great service and, most importantly, 2o or so different beers on tap. Plus, if you’re really lucky, you just might run into Chimera as he’s picking up his next stash of “The Chimmer.”

 

14May

caps complete their annual postseason meltdown

(photo by Greg Fiume)

This is why we can’t have nice things.

It really doesn’t matter which D.C. sports team you root for these days. They all end in heartbreak and disappointment.

Long-time fans of the Washington Capitals know that this franchise has never really done well in the postseason. Whether we’re talking about multiple overtime games or going up three games to one in a series and being unable to finish off an opponent on the ropes, the Caps have historically tortured their fan base on a level that should be punishable by law.

Graybeards like me know playoff letdowns are an annual tradition, and are able to adjust their expectations accordingly. But I still feel for those relatively newer additions to the local hockey-loving community.

Those who have only been here for the “Rock the Red” era of the Capitals clearly had no idea what they’d signed up for. They simply saw dynamic playmakers on the ice and larger than life personalities off of it and decided to give the Caps a try.

Little did they know they had just entered into an abusive relationship.

But really, their first clue should have been that this franchise was located in Washington, D.C. That alone should be enough at this point to make people proceed with caution.

Take, for example, the Nationals.

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