An Introduction: Will The 2011-12 Caps Season Finally Be "The Year"?
As the temperature drops and the leaves change, fall is in the air. With that comes the return of the beautiful game. No, not soccer, the other one: ice hockey. Tonight the puck is dropped on the 2011-12 season, and Washington Capitals fans all over the Baltimore/D.C./Northern Virginia area (and some of us way out here in California), are giddy with anticipation for the coming season. Do not get me wrong, football trumps everything this time of year, but hockey, specifically Caps hockey, ranks right up there for me. With the fantastic offseason the Caps had, I have been champing at the bit for this season to start. Is this the year? Only time will tell. On paper, the Caps can play with anyone, and with any style. This season, I will be entering the blogosphere for the first time (so bear with me), covering the Caps. I’m going to try to make it fun, (semi)objective, and informative. I watch every game with what I believe to be a keen eye, so I’ll be writing about what I see.
Just a little about myself. I was born and raised in Baltimore. I am a devout Orioles, Ravens, Terps (basketball), and Capitals fan. I differentiate MD basketball and football because I am keeping it real. I like MD football, but do I go into a seething rage if they lose to Virginia like I do if Terps hoops loses to the Wahoos? No. Not at all. So I would be lying to myself as well as you if I put them in “devout” status. Maybe that was the case in the ’80s (yes, I’m that old) with Boomer and the gang, but not now. I grew up going to Memorial Stadium, Colts and Orioles games were the most fun ever for a kid growing up in Baltimore in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Truly, “wonder years”.
My love for hockey started on a grade school field trip to the then Civic Center. The trip? Free tickets to a Baltimore Skipjacks game. I could not tell you what was going on, at all, but I remember being impressed by the speed, grace, and grit of these guys flying around–on ice(!). Never seen anything like it. I could barely walk on ice, and these guys were skating at breakneck speeds while trying to control this round object as they are getting knocked all over the place. As I began to dabble in lacrosse, ice hockey started to make more sense to me. I went to many more Skipjacks games as I got older, started learning the game, and that is where my love for the Caps began. Living in Baltimore in those days, there was no Directv, no NHL Open Ice sports package, so if you wanted to watch the Caps, you had to flip to WDCA channel 20 and pray to the television gods. I pretty much spent my high school years watching Caps games while holding the antennas of my television in various geometric shapes. Nothing but snow on the screen with some actual hockey in between. It worked though, and as I moved on to college, the passion was ignited. There was a sports bar in town, with HUGE projection televisions, and going to school with many Northeasters who grew up with a hockey stick in one hand, the art of trash-talking was perfected. Those were the days of Capital Punishment with Kevin Hatcher and Dale Hunter (the greatest sports poster ever, by the way), of Mike Liut and Dino Ciccarelli, of Al Iafrate and Rod Langway. My hate for Pittsburgh was born then, way before there was anything called the Baltimore Ravens or the AFC North. It wasn’t the Steelers that drew my ire, but the Penguins. Along with the Rangers and the Bruins (seems like it is always New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh as the banes of my existence).
Eventually, I moved out west where I have spent the last 17 years (including a 3 year pit stop in Colorado). Though I’m physically removed from the east coast, separated by thousands of miles, my sports fanaticism never left. It’s sometimes nice to watch my teams’ events unfold from outside the eye of the storm, but the bitter losses, the collapses, the failures, hurt just as bad as they would being there, if not more so. At least at home you have thousands around you to help you through the losses. When the Caps lost to Montreal in ’10 (truly was “our year”), all I had was a bottle of Patron to console me. The next day, my all-time top 10 hangover had me wishing to leave this Earth. Following the disappointment of the ’11 season (again, “our year”), I wondered “What in damnation is going on with this team?”. Leave it to George Mcphee to get my hopes up again. Seriously, the man is the NHL version of Ozzie Newsome. He went out and got a fantastic veteran goalie in Tomas Vokoun, gritty, playoff-tested guys in wingers Joel Ward (“Soul Brother #1”–my nickname for him) and Troy Brouwer, as well as hard-hitting, smooth-skating defenseman Roman Hamrlik (who will be great on the power-play). “In George, we trust”, indeed. With the nucleus of the team back, I expect the two Alexes, Ovechkin and Semin to bounce back from, for their standards, down years. Bounce back from Mike Green as well. I love this team. It’s not built to just win the Southeast division, but to get into the postseason and win the Eastern Conference. Anything less than an Eastern Conference finals appearance will be a failure, in my eyes. I don’t know if Caps fans, or my liver, will be able to handle another one.
Oh, and shameless plug, add me on twitter @wrr71 if you want no-holds-barred ramblings about literally everything under the sun in 140 or less. Go Caps!