Another Paean To the Washington Hockey Boom
March 14, 2011 11 Comments
During Friday night’s Washington Capitals Southeast Division showdown against the Carolina Hurricanes, the young, raucous crowd was polled twice for trivia questions. The first question went as follows:
- Which of the following players has a hat trick against the Hurricanes
- Robert Lang
- Calle Johansson
- Alex Ovechkin
90% of the crowd voted for Alexander the Great, and they were incorrect, as the right answer was Robert Lang. The next question and response was slightly more troubling:
- Which of the following players scored his first NHL goal vs. Carolina
- Jeff Schultz
- Eric Fehr
- Jason Arnott
37% (the slight majority) of the fans voted Arnott. Now, Jason Arnott played his first NHL game and scored his first NHL goal in 1993, when the Carolina Hurricanes were still in Hartford.
What’s the point I’m trying to make here? I’m not really sure of it, but I think it’s that Capitals fans of the older days (B.8.) and hardcore NHL fans should learn to be okay with the fact that the Capitals bandwagon exists. I’ve seen many criticisms throughout social media and the blogosphere mocking the fanbase (even from their own fellow fans) for hopping on just because of Ovechkin and the team’s (regular season) winning ways. However, the Capitals are building traditions in a way that cultivates that fervor in the right way: creating obsessed, fairly knowledgeable hockey fans, just like anyone who reads this blog.
Here’s the thing: this team is a hit with the younger set of the Washington/Maryland area in a big way, and it shows in the atmosphere: it is very much that of an ACC or Big East college basketball game, a lot of crowd encouragement, a segment where Tom Green phones in his “UNLEASH THE FURY” line from Road Trip, characters like “The Horn Guy”, a miniature mascot and tons of other stuff to keep their attention. Knock it all you want, but it works: other than as a lacrosse/soccer player, I’d never known my cousin for a sports guy. He knew more about the Caps than I did, and I was headed for an NHL press box. Most of the fans I talked to that night were that way: maybe not 100% on the NHL history quiz, but they know the team backwards and forwards.
Fact is, this is all a good thing for the NHL. Do you think baseball fans really care that every Yankee fan can’t go toe-to-toe on Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle? Maybe a few do, but they’re wasting their time, because the Yankees and their fanbase are great for baseball, in some cases providing the revenue to (supposedly) keep some teams competing. I’m not saying the Capitals are like the Yankees, but the fanbase reminded me of a little bit of that.
This might be painful to hear for the elder statesmen Caps fan, but honestly, what is their really worth remembering all that much from the pre-Ovie days? A failed Stanley Cup trip in 1998, Rod Langway, Petr Bondra, the abortion of Jagr and … a whole lot of blah. Ted Leonsis brought superstars, and ones with personality to boot to this city, and the people came in droves (Sunday was the team’s 97th consecutive sellout) something that hadn’t worked before in Washington. They have an entire area that won’t follow the teams of their parents, who may have migrated from other places or just didn’t care about the Caps. They’re building their own traditions, and if more teams with success would find a way to sell their fans on the current team, more hockey teams might be thriving the way Washington is. Call it a call to hockey teams to live for the now.