Another Paean To the Washington Hockey Boom

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
  1. Robert Lang
  2. Calle Johansson
  3. 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
  1. Jeff Schultz
  2. Eric Fehr
  3. 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.

11 Responses to Another Paean To the Washington Hockey Boom

  1. David b says:

    It is worth pointing out that one of those trivia questions was taking via the whole “move your arms this way” style of voting, which, if you’ve paid close attention, is hugely flawed if it exists as an actual system at all. Questions with very straight forward piece of cake answers get missed by the “system” and result in large amounts of booing by the crowd, most of whom I’m sure got it right. I’m fairly certain that the question could be “Which Capital player’s name is Boyd Gordon?” and Eric Fehr would win by a landslide.

    The other one, the hat trick one, I think was taken via text which I assume is a bit more reliable. Tried and true.


    Both of those questions, in my mind were trick questions. Most of the newer fans had probably never even heard of Lang or Johansson, Johansson played D, so a lot of people would have probably said Ovechkin (myself included). Ive followed team since early 80’s. I know Arnott has been in the league a long time, but as to when and who he scored his first goal against, I dont know. Considering the other two choices were long time Capitals, most people probably thought it was Arnott, since this would be a way to get information about a new player available to the fans. Schultz is a D that is not known for scoring.

    The “failed” Cup run in 1998 was unexpected, Kolzig stood on his head that spring. They lost to a Red Wings team with multiple players that will be or are in Hall of Fame. If I remember correctly, none of the losses were by more than two goals.

    And the Jagr signing was awful. But one of the problems I have with the newer fans is that if you dare criticize the current group of players (especially Mike Green’s poor play in the defensive zone, and some get more excited about seeing pictures of him ride a scooter), you are accused of living in past or being spoiled by Langway/Scott Stevens/Kevin Hatcher. Without the efforts of the previous players, and Bryan and Terry Murray as coaches, David Polie as GM there might not even be a team in DC today.

    There are plenty of Redskins fans around who never saw the previous generations of players, yet still appreciate what they did and dont mock people who make comparisons. That in my opinion doesnt happen with some Capitals fans.

  3. Very good points. A lot of Blackhawks fan on the bandwagon couldn’t tell you much about the previous 10 years, which were forgettable.

    Factor that if things are as they are in DC, imagine how much worse they are in Nashville, Miami, Phoenix, and Raleigh.

    I look forward to Gary Bettman’s face when/if Phoenix, Atlanta, et al are finally relocated to real NHL cities.

  4. pachanga74 says:

    While a season ticket-holder, I was unfortunately not at either of these games. But as best I recall, aren’t these quizes part of the little bit where the fans point their hands either left, right or up, and the contestant can either go with the crowd’s answer or his or her own? If so, I am about 99% certain that the numbers are not actually based on the crowd response (mainly because I am unsure of existing technology which could scan a crowd of 19,000+ in 5 seconds and compute percentages based on the direction their arms were dangling), and always assumed that the numbers were just bogus randum numbers to facilitate the little “game.”

    Maybe I’m mistaken and there is a different game/contest with percentages?

  5. Dave says:

    I love the bandwagoners. They spend money on the team. Loads of it. Do i care if they can’t remember the dreary days, when we had the quietest rink in the league? No. What i care about is they pack Verizon, make the team economically viable, and are breeding a love of the game in DC. You can’t grow a sport without new fans.

  6. pachanga74 says:

    oh yeah…I always forget the other quiz where you are supposed to text A, B or C for your answer (I think?…I recall/pay attention to these as much as I do the “text & pick the next unheard-of-song to be played in VC” bit).

  7. The Horn Guy says:

    You’re missing the distinction between new fans and bandwagon fans. New fans may care enough to honor the old traditions, learn the history, and appreciate the game. Bandwagon fans are there because it’s trendy. They see a team who competes which is something that’s lacking in the other major sports franchises in DC. They are building new traditions which mock the established ones, like tossing hats for a shootout goal.

    The new fans who got infected with the hockey bug will bother to learn the names of the players on the ice and in the rafters. They’ll make the effort to find out why the Canadiens’ logo is a C with an H inside it. They’ll educate themselves about the heroics of Bobby Orr and Maurice Richard.

    Bandwagon fans will yell “SHOOT” when the Caps are buzzing the o-zone, but won’t take a moment to realize there’s no shot to be had. They’ll boo the refs when they make the good calls, or don’t make the bad ones, because they’re ignorant of the game. They don’t want to know why they’re wrong. They just wanna be known among their peer group as fans of a winning team.

    What’s more, bandwagon fans will abandon the Verizon Center if/when the Caps are only average again. They’ll go back to their beloved Skins when they are successful. That’s the definition of a bandwagon fan. They’re like a fairweather friend.

  8. Kevin Schloemp says:

    It is great and at the same time it stinks. When a team is doing really well everyone comes out of the woodwork, but they don’t know much besides what the rules are and a little bit about strategy and some of the players. All of us hardcore fans need to stick together. I remember when the Detroit Tigers got hot in 06 and everyone came out but not one could tell me about 03 when they lost 129 games, I went to like 15 games in 03 at Comerica Park and much more on TV; and in 03 when the Detroit Pistons got big all of people in the Detroit area got on the bandwagon, but few knew anything about the “teal era.” Let me just say that I am a Devils fan and I know who the hardcore members of the Legion are and who just want to get it to see the ice. Once again I say to all: We must stick together as hardcore fans of whatever teams we choose to align ourselves with. Remember we are all in this together for the growth of hockey and who knows maybe some of the fair weather fans will come around, I hope.

  9. SA-Town says:

    First of all, not knowing trivia is one thing…not knowing hockey or etiquitte is another. (learning forward, standing up…ect…)

    Also, many people living in DC are from other places…they grew up Ranger, Sabre, Bruin, Flyer, and even Penguin fans…what kills me is when they get Caps tickets…come to games…and cheer when the Caps win…but when they lose….it’s “Im a Rangers fan…Im a Devils fan..ect…” It’s a joke…save your money, stay at home, or move back where you came from.

  10. sean says:

    I think what was more embarrassing was the lady who was asked to name which of the Caps played for US college hockey teams, and she started with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom…. It was saved when the MC just said “Uhhh, Noooooooo”

    I am liking the tougher trivia question though. I remember when they were so easy, it was like “what’s the point” This year it seems like they are really testing the fans.

  11. Common Sense says:

    So how about you show what the other fans of others team answer to questions? For you to single out one team during one game is why you probably wont ever write for a more acredited publication. Jerk!

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