Sunday, April 12, 2009

Breaking Ground for Hockey Town

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)


  1. part of me wants to shake your hand
    the other wants pour you a beer and go yell at Rangers fans!

  2. So I moved here 2.5 years ago and as a hockey fan the first thing I did was get tickets to the Caps to watch the greatest player in a generation [OV]. 2 years ago I sat in an empty arena week after week and watched 7,000 out of 8,000 fans cheer for the other team. In time the Caps grew on me. I have had season tickets for 2 years now and have enjoyed it. I have been happy to watch all these fans fill the arena. The playoff games last year were some of the best sporting events I have ever been to and Verizon Center is so loud! People talk hockey in the arena and on the street. People outside DC call them bandwagon fans and they are for the most part. I don't care. It's nice to see people care about the sport I love so much. The average Caps fan doesn't know much about the sport but I must admit the die hard fans who have been supporting the team, even in the lean years, know their hockey. Yes, I am looking at you sections 108-103.

    But, you write:

    "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."

    Come on. One year a hockeytown doesn't make. Not like New York, Montreal or Detroit...and i would add Calgary, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Philly to that list.

    If you have spent time in the hockey cultures of these towns, you'd know DC has a long way to go. I'm not saying it's not on its way and that I'm not excited about what is happening here and glad to be a part of it, but you need to measure a hockey town by its knowledge of the history of the game and the team, the ability to fill a stadium even under lean years and losing seasons, the press coverage in the mainstream press, and the fan interest in the offseason. None of which are present in DC like they are in the aforementioned cities.

    I hope to see DC as one of the best places for hockey in the NHL. It has the chance to do that and a marvelous owner who has been great at marketing the game in a tough climate. However, Detroit is hockeytown with Montreal a close second. Calgary and Edmonton is possibly the best rivalry in sports whose fan support is unparalleled. Buffalo saw crowds of 20% of the population of the city show up at the arena for away playoff games, so much so they had to put it on a screen outside. Philly's fans are some of the smartest in the game. DC has a long way to go to get there.

  3. I'm not saying that overnight we're going to become "hockey town," but more or less, it's our chance the break ground and begin to become one.

    Last year analysts said our arena was louder than Bell Centre. That's saying something. This year it could be the loudest and best place to play if our fans really come out.

    You're absolutely right, it takes time to create a hockey culture and two years isn't enough time -- but it has to start somewhere, why not now?

    Thanks for the great comment btw.


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