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.

08Feb

Von Miller is really good at football

Von Miller

Long before he was named the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl 50, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller showed the Washington Redskins just how talented he was.

During the 2013 season, the Redskins jumped out to an early 21-7 lead at Denver during an October game. And then Miller and the Broncos defense decided enough is enough — creating five turnovers, including a sack fumble by Miller (pictured) that paved the way to 38 unanswered points in a 45-21 route of the Redskins.

“It was like a blur,” said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, after the game. “Someone asked me, ‘What went wrong, what happened?’ To be brutally honest, I don’t remember. I looked up one point, 21-7, felt good, everybody smiling. Turned around and it … was 38-21.”

After last night, something tells me Cam Newton can relate.

04Jan

Colt McCoy enjoys defeating Dallas

Colt McCoy

While the outcome of Sunday’s game wasn’t life or death for a Washington Redskins team that had already secured a trip to the playoffs, beating the Cowboys in Dallas is always enjoyable.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins started the game, threw just enough passes to set a few franchise single-season records and then was removed from the game to ensure he stayed healthy for the postseason, which meant veteran backup Colt McCoy saw his first action of the 2015 season. Needless to say, he was happy to get some meaningful snaps before the regular season came to an end with a 34-23 victory over the Cowboys.

“I hadn’t played all year and I hadn’t gotten any reps, but I knew there was a chance I could come in and play in this game,” McCoy said. “I just talked to Jamison [Crowder], Ryan [Grant] and [Rashad] Ross and told them to just do what they do. I’m gonna get warmed up and we’ll figure this thing out. I felt terrible about missing Ross early in the game, but it happens. I was a little rusty and missed the blitz one time, but once I got settled in and knocked off a little bit of the rust, I actually felt pretty good. Once I threw the touchdown pass in the third quarter and we had the big lead, we basically just ran the clock out.

“It was really nice to beat the Cowboys,” he continued. “It was really nice to get out there on the field. I felt bad for Kirk because he was in the zone and I hate to see guys come out when they’re just on fire. The last three or four weeks Kirk has just played lights out, so I hope we can carry that momentum into the playoffs and I was glad to be able to secure the win for us on the road.”

For the second consecutive season, McCoy had a hand in beating the Cowboys in Dallas. What is it about AT&T Stadium that brings the best out of the Texas native?

“It’s kind of nice coming into a game with a 17-point lead, so I didn’t want to mess that up. Again, I can’t explain how hard it is when you haven’t played all year and you really don’t get any time in practice to step in. You know it on paper and you see everything, but seeing it live on the field it took me a couple series to get my feet under me. I thought the offensive line did tremendous and once I got comfortable out there, I was feeling good.”

When McCoy hooked up with Ross for a 71-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, it was the longest pass completion of his career. The explosive play didn’t happen by accident.

“They hit me with a lot of pressure early — they pressured me a lot to see if I could handle it. They lined up in a pressure and I changed the protection and got everything to where I wanted it. I left our concept for that play on and saw the corner bite on the out-route and the safety wasn’t getting enough depth. I had seen that blitz on tape a couple times. I’m just happy that I saw it live and made it work.”

So what’s going through McCoy’s head as he drops back and throws that long ball?

“I had missed him once already and that timing is real — the more you throw with your guys the more comfortable you get. But I didn’t second guess myself. I let it go like I felt I should and he did the rest.”

Bigger picture, how difficult was it to be a spectator for the bulk of the season?

“I’ll tell you this — we all want to play. I very happy for Kirk. He’s done an outstanding job this season. I was glad to get some time out on the field and the last thing I’d ever want to do is take away from our team’s success, so I’ve just tried to help our team behind the scenes as much as I can, whether it’s helping Kirk or helping the receivers, giving our scout team a good look for our defense and just find ways to improve as a quarterback.”

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.”

 

06Jul

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22Aug

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