Verizon Center on a weekend is a sight anyone who thinks the NHL can’t thrive in Washington should see:
a red crowd moving up and down Seventh Street, restaurants filled to standing room only, and fans talking puck outside the arena’s entrance.
Four years ago, the fans wore bleak black and gold jerseys and were uncertain of where the franchise was truly headed. They knew they had Ovechkin, but they could only go on faith alone that the rest of the prospects were as good as advertised.
The words “hockey town” and “Washington” were a pipe-dream that many from Washington and abroad thought would never be uttered in the same sentence.
Home-ice advantage in a first-round matchup with the Rangers is a chance for Capitals fans to show the world just how far we’ve come. This playoff series is more or less a coming-out party for Washington hockey fans. It’s our chance to declare our stake as a “hockey town,” or at least our version of it.
A few months back, I argued that if Washington is to be a hockey town it needs to be of its own design, not a carbon copy of an existing one. I’d like to think we’ve created a unique atmosphere that is truly Washington.
I’ve seen various fans around the NHL ridicule our fans for thinking they can be a hockey town, but they should be reminded: a city is born from a colony, and that’s what we had four years ago -- a die-hard hockey colony just waiting to thrive.
To a member of a “true hockey town,” something as simple as ringing a cowbell, blowing a horn, red-outs and drum-lines might seem like minor gimmicks, but to a fan of the Caps, they are rallying cries. We have a fan who dons a cape, fans who wear fur hats, fans that sport Mohawks and fans who paint themselves red, all in the name of hockey.
What started as an advertising slogan is now a phrase to identify with. Ask someone in Washington if they “rock the red,” and they will probably ask if you’re a Caps fan. Or just honk your car horn three times while driving down Constitution Avenue, or I-66, or F Street and see what happens.
Actor and gross-out artist Tom Green probably has no clue that his line “unleash the fury” has been immortalized on t-shirts, signs and in-game videos. It’s probably the highest celebrity he’s achieved in years.
Just because our traditions and trademarks are not born from decades of hockey history doesn’t mean they aren’t special. Just because we don't throw an octopus on the ice doesn't mean we can't be just a fierce as any group of fans in the NHL.
Last year’s playoff series was a signal, a light in the sky to say “we’re here, and we’re for real.” This is the postseason that we collectively break ground as a hockey town and begin to establish the new traditions and values that will stick with us for decades.
This playoff series is more than just four wins to move on.
It’s our chance to stand in line with the best of the best and to make Washington, not New York, Montreal or Detroit, the grandest stage in hockey.
Let’s Go Caps
(photo by OFB)