Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Passion of the Caps Fan

Thirty two seasons…two thousand seven hundred and twelve games.

1,137 wins
1,229 losses
303 ties
43 overtime and shootout losses…

Three division championships, two conference finals, one Stanley Cup final . . . no Stanley Cups.

What is it about this club that would lead a hockey fan with any self respect to have followed such a team through the years of pain and frustration?

It’s 1974-75 . . . 8-67-5. 21 points. Caps fans could walk out of Capital Centre after the last game (an 8-4 win over Pittsburgh, by the way) secure in the knowledge that it couldn’t get worse. So far, it hasn’t.

It’s 1975-76 . . . and the Caps undergoing the first of what would become many death marches on the road to start the season. Ten of their first thirteen games were on the road – they lost seven of them. They didn’t get their first home win until November 26th. But Caps fans had the pleasure of seeing a budding hockey analyst -- Bill Clement. The Peerless thinks he's harbored a grudge ever since.

1t’s 1976-77 . . . and the Caps earn more points (62) than the first two years combined (53) and 21 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. Hockeytown, my ass.

It’s 1977-78 . . . and winning the last three games of the season to avoid having the worst record in the league.

It’s 1978-79 . . . and Gary Inness is the first Capitals goaltender to end the year with a .500 record – 14-14-8.

It’s 1979-80 . . . and the first time the Caps beat Montreal. Until their 3-1 victory on February 19 the Caps were 0-31-3 and outscored 185-53 against the Habs. Four times the Habs scored more than 10 goals in a game.

It’s 1980-81 . . . and one point…one freakin’ point. That was the margin by which the Caps missed the playoffs. But Dennis Maruk became the first Cap to reach the 50-goal plateau for a season.

It’s 1981-82 . . . Starting the season 1-14-1 is not a recipe for reaching the playoffs. It doesn’t do much for coaching longevity, either (Gary Green was relieved when it reached 1-12-0). But then, things took a turn. Roger Crozier lost one game behind the bench (that’s 1-13-0) before yielding to a 38-year old coach who led the Hershey Bears to a 47-24-9 record the previous year (the 103 points earned would not be exceeded until 2006-2007 when the club was an affiliate of the Caps) – Bryan Murray. Murray lost his first game (to Pittsburgh…a harbinger?), but finished the year 25-27-13…an improvement to be sure. Although the club finished with only 65 points, the pieces were coming together – Mike Gartner, Bobby Carpenter – The “Can’t Miss Kid” – Bengt Gustafsson, Bobby Gould, Gaetan Duchesne, Lou Franceschetti . . . and then . . .

It’s 1982-83 . . . and the biggest deal in Capitals history. Without it, this narrative ends about here. Not two weeks into his new job as general manager, David Poile sent Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Canadiens for Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis. The 39-25-16 record would earn the Caps their first playoff berth, and although the Caps were dispatched in four games by the eventual champion New York Islanders, it would mark the first of 14 consecutive playoff appearances.

It’s 1983-84 . . . and more firsts . . . the first 100-point season (48-27-5, 101 points), the first hardware earned by Caps players (Langway the Norris Trophy, Jarvis the Selke), and most important the first playoff series win – a three-game sweep of the Flyers in which the Caps outscored the Flyers 15-5 and chased the Flyers’ goaltender twice.

It’s 1984-85 . . . and another 100-point season (46-25-9, 101 points) and the only time in team history the club had two 50-goal scorers – Mike Gartner (50) and Bobby Carpenter (53). But for the third straight year, the Islanders would end the Caps’ season.

It’s 1985-86 . . . and the most successful regular season in the club’s history – 50-23-7 (107 points), the only season in which the Caps won 50 games. It might have had the most bitter ending – a six-game second round loss in the playoffs to the New York Rangers, a club the Caps finished 29 points in front of in the regular season.

It’s 1986-87 . . . and a year of turmoil. Bobby Carpenter shipped off to the Rangers on New Year’s Day after all but being dismissed by the team. It seemed to rejuvenate the club. Beginning with a 4-3 New Year’s Day home win, the Caps closed 26-13-4 and looked poised for a long run in the playoffs. That would end deep into Easter morning in the fourth overtime of a seventh game against the old nemesis – the Islanders. Pat Lafontaine turns, fires….CLANG!...see you next year. The 75 shots faced by Islander goalie Kelly Hrudey in that game would be a Stanley Cup playoff record that would last almost 20 years.

It’s 1987-88 . . . and another path-changing trade. Gaetan Duchesne, Alan Haworth, and a first round pick in the 1987 draft were sent to Quebec for goaltender Clint Malarchuk and a center trying to make a comeback from a broken leg – Dale Hunter. The draft pick that went to Quebec might be more famous in Caps history than any the club actually made in their first 30 years – Joe Sakic. The highs and the lows of a frustrating, unsatisfying season were reflected in the two playoff series. In the first, the Capitals stormed back against the Flyers from a 3-1 deficit in games and a 3-0 deficit in the deciding seventh game to have TV play-by-play man Mike Fornes utter in overtime the words, “…Murphy starts the rush… he hits Hunter…he’s in alone…a shot…and a goal!!!!!" That would only be followed by a seven-game loss to the upstart New Jersey Devils, one in which Rod Langway would finish the series on the bench courtesy of a Pat Verbeek skate blade slicing through the back of his leg. One had the feeling of one era ending, and another beginning.

It’s 1998-89 . . . and a year in which the Caps would win their first and only Patrick Division title. They also would obtain one of the team’s all time favorites – Dino Ciccarelli – in a late-season trade. He didn’t disappoint…12-3-15, +10 in 11 games. The Caps went 8-3 in those games. That’s called “making a good first impression.” It didn’t last though; the Flyers exacted a measure of revenge for the previous year’s result, downing the Caps in six games in the opening round, punctuated by a goal scored into an empty net in game five by Flyer goalie Ron Hextall.

It’s 1989-90 . . . and perhaps the oddest of all the seasons played under the Capitals’ banner. The club struggled out of the gate with a 3-7-3 record at the end of October (including a couple of “welcome-to-the-big-time” outings for a young goaltender named Olaf Kolzig). It didn’t get much better over the next two-and-a-half months, and Bryan Murray was relieved of his duties, turning the reins over to . . . his brother, Terry. The younger Murray guided the Caps to an 18-14-2 record to finish the year, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Caps from finishing with their first losing record (36-38-6) since the 1981-82 season. It didn’t keep them from the playoffs, though. There, a heretofore unremarkable forward had the playoffs of his life. After scoring 16 goals in 93 games spread over parts of two seasons, John Druce scored 14 goals (four of them game-winners) in 15 games. The Caps rode the good fortune to their first conference final. Boston would end the fun, though, in a four-game sweep.

It’s 1990-91 . . . and the debut of Peter Bondra. This season gave Caps fans the first glimpse of the player who would end his Caps career as its top all-time goal scorer. This season would also see a player who had one of the most meteoric, not to mention shortest, careers in club history. John Kordic would not post a point in the seven games in which he played, but would amass 101 penalty minutes. He would also be suspended by the club twice and would meet a tragic end a little more than a year later. The Caps would also be introduced to a demon of their own – after eliminating the Rangers in a six-game first-round series, they would meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round in the first meeting of the clubs in the playoffs. After losing the first game, the Penguins – facing the possibility of falling behind 2-0 in games in their own building – escaped with a 7-6 overtime win and closed out the Caps from there. The Penguins went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

It’s 1991-92 . . . and the Caps storming out of the gate to an 8-1-0 record. The club had remarkable balance over the course of the year – 14 players recorded double-digit goal totals, seven had more than 20 (including the young Mr. Bondra, who had 28). But there was the demon again – the Penguins. The Caps raced out to a 3-1 lead in games, capped by a 7-2 drubbing of the Penguins in Pittsburgh. But Pittsburgh would storm back to win the last three games – two of them on Capital Centre ice, with the series clinching goal scored by a young Czech named Jagr.

It’s 1992-93 . . . and the establishment of Peter Bondra as the go-to scorer; he would finish the season with 37 goals (and, oddly enough, the highest point total he would have for his career – 85). However, although the Caps would make the playoffs for the 11th straight year, the season would unravel for the Caps even before the post-season started. On March 13th Rod Langway announced he would sit out the rest of the season, citing his reduced playing time. The Caps would be eliminated in the first round by the Islanders, a series remembered more for its ignominious end as Dale Hunter blind-sided Pierre Turgeon in the final game, separating Turgeon’s shoulder and earning Hunter a 20-game suspension from the league and its new commissioner, Gary Bettman. Lost in that incident is the fact that Hunter had seven goals in the six-game series, matching a career playoff high (set in 1988 in 14 games).

It’s 1993-1994 . . . the hangover from the end of the previous season making itself felt – Dale Hunter missing the first 20 games and the club getting off to a lackluster 20-23-4 start, another Murray would find himself being replaced. Jim Schoenfeld took over, and the Caps had another strong finish – 19-12-6 – to get a seventh seed in the playoffs. It would get them another meeting with the Penguins. The script took a more favorable turn this time, though, as the Caps sent the Penguins in search of herring in six games. That’s where it would end, though, as the Caps lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers (the third time in four seasons they were eliminated by the eventual champs).

It’s 1994-95 . . . and . . . hey, where’d the hockey go? Well, we did get 48 games, and perhaps Peter Bondra’s best goal scoring season. 34 goals in 47 games works out to a 59-goal pace for a full season. Included in that was an incredible six shorthanded goals. A hideous start – 3-10-5 through the end of February – gave way to an 18-8-3 finish that gave the Caps a ticket to the playoffs, where they met . . . the Penguins. The series – and a career – would turn almost on a single play. With the Caps ahead 3-1 in games, holding a lead, and on a power play in Pittsburgh, Jaromir Jagr stole the puck and netted a shorthanded goal on Jim Carey. The Penguins went on to win that game, and the Caps would be sent packing quickly and quietly in the last two games.

It’s 1995-96 . . . and Peter Bondra would set a career high in goals with 52. But the story was Carey – the good and the bad. Carey would devour pucks like a fat guy with a bag of Doritos. A 35-24-9 record and 2.26 goals against average would be good enough to earn him the first Vezina Trophy bestowed upon a Capital. But the previous season’s nightmare at the hands of the Penguins would be stirred anew. Carey was yanked in the opener in favor of Olaf Kolzig, although the Caps won. The Caps would win game two behind Kolzig once more to return home with a 2-0 lead in games. But coach Jim Schoenfeld would return to Jim Carey for game three in Landover. It turned out to be a mortal error. Carey lost 4-1, which set up another of the heartbreaking kinds of games the Caps seem to hold several patents on. Olaf Kolzig was given the nod for game four and single handedly kept the Caps in the contest with 42 save on 44 shots. But that was good enough only to get the Caps to overtime as Ken Wregget – in relief of Tom Barasso, who left with back spasms in the second period after giving up a goal in the first period -- stopped all but one of the 13 shots he faced.. Caps tormentor Mario Lemieux was tossed in the second period with slashing, instigator, fighting, and game misconduct penalties after having his sensibilities offended by Todd Krygier. But the real fun was yet to come…in the second overtime, Joe Juneau awas awarded what was the first penalty shot in a Stanley Cup playoff game in league history. Juneau skated in, but the deteriorating ice betrayed him, and the puck was rolling off his stick. He managed a weak shot on goal that Wregget stopped, and the teams played on. The Caps had the better of the momentum in the extra sessions, outshooting the Penguins 37-12 in the first three overtimes. In the fourth overtime, the momentum would turn once more as Pittsburgh piled up a 10-6 lead in shots in the first 19 minutes of the period. But Olaf Kolzig was equal to the task. Then, there was the final minute of the period . . . Calle Johansson was in the penalty box for a hooking call, and the Penguins were setting up their power play. Sergei Zubov sent a pass across to Petr Nedved at the left wing point. Nedved walked in to the top of the circle with Mark Tinordi blocking his path. Nedved was patient enough to let Tinordi make his move, which was to go down to the ice to block a shot that didn’t come. Nedved stepped around Tinordi and sent as harmless looking a shot as there was in this game toward Kolzig. He never saw it. The seeing-eye puck avoided several players screening Kolzig and fluttered over Kolzig’s left shoulder into the back of the net. The longest game in Capitals’ history was over at 179:16…a 3-2 loss. Woulda, coulda, shoulda . . . Johansson’s penalty had only five more seconds to run . . . the period had only 44 more seconds to run . . . if Juneau hadn’t had the puck roll on his stick . . . if the Caps hadn’t given up a shorthanded goal in the late stages of the second period to let the Penguins back into the game after taking a 2-0 lead . . .

It’s 1996-97 . . . and the first real housecleaning in the club’s history. A fine November (9-5-1) was an oasis in a lost season. The Caps would go 24-35-8 in months not starting with “N” and finish among the also rans. Peter Bondra would pot 46 goals, but it would be far from enough. Jim Carey could not recover from two disappointing playoff series against Pittsburgh, and after a 17-18-3, 2.75 record, was dispatched to Boston along with Jason Allison, Anson Carter, and a third round pick for Adam Oates, Rick Tocchet, and Bill Ranford. Coach Jim Schoenfeld would be relieved of his duties at year’s end, replaced by Ron Wilson. The housecleaning would pay off . . .

It’s 1997-98 . . . the Caps would bid farewell to the big Pringle’s chip in Landover for shiny new digs on 7th Street. Peter Bondra would match a career high with 52 goals, including 13 game winners. But the season’s turning point might have taken place on opening night. Bill Ranford, installed as the number one netminder for the opener against Toronto, took a puck square on the cup . . . enter Olaf Kolzig in what would be his own Lou Gehrig for Wally Pipp moment. Kolzig would cement his position as the new number one goalie and finish the year 33-18-10, 2.20, .920, leading the Caps to a fifth-seed in the playoffs. Ranford would get some work (7-12-2) but would not regain his top netminder status. Kolzig didn’t stop at game 82. He took the club on his back and led them to three series wins in the playoffs, going 12-5 in the process with five overtime wins. The last of those 12 wins came courtesy of Joe Juneau, who pounced on a rebound to the left of Buffalo Sabres netminder Dominik Hasek, who could not cover the puck before Juneau sent the puck under him and Caps fans into a joy they hadn’t known in any of their previous 23 seasons. The Caps were on to the Stanley Cup final. There, it would be another series of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” The Wings would eke out a pair of one-goal wins at home to open the series, the latter in overtime, but not before the Capitals would let a chance to split the first two games pass by. In game two, the Capitals held a 4-3 lead in the third period. Esa Tikkanen – a late-season addition to the club – picked up a loose puck and skated in alone against Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood. Tikkanen faked Osgood to the ice and skated around him to face an open net. Tikkanen’s shot skittered wide on the far side, and the Caps lost the opportunity to take a two-goal lead in the game and perhaps knot the series. The Caps would return home, but would drop their third straight one-goal game before going in a more convincing fashion in a 4-1 game four loss.

It’s 1998-1999 . . . and the number ‘511’ has meaning. No, it’s not the number of games Cy Young won in his career (actually, it is), but the number of man-games lost to injury by the Caps in the regular season. Only two players – Brian Bellows and Ken Klee – would dress for at least 75 games. That not being nearly the recipe for a successful season, the Caps finished 31-45-6, the 68 points being the worst finish in a full season since 1981-82. And Dale Hunter, the long-time captain of the club and its gritty soul since his acquisition in 1987, was dealt at the deadline to Colorado for a draft pick. The high points, if one could call them that, were the performances of Calle Johansson and Joe Reekie, who managed a plus-10 and plus-11, respectively, on a club where 29 players were in the minus column.

It’s 1999-2000 . . . and the phrase, “storming back” comes to mind. Through December, the Caps were mired at 13-16-6-1. Then, the Caps tied St. Louis on New Year’s Day. From there, the Caps would storm through January, going 11-1-2. They would make MCI Center a difficult place for opponents to play, winning ten straight (a club record) from January 4th to February 23rd. Olaf Kolzig would be almost impenetrable, and Chris Simon – heretofore known more as a brawler – would register a career-high 29 goals. They would end the year 31-10-6-1 for the 2000 portion of the 1999-2000 season. Kolzig’s 41-20-11, 2.24, .917 (not to mention leading the league in minutes and shots faced) would earn him a Vezina Trophy – the second for the club in its history. But there was a cloud hovering over the club – 45 one-goal games. The Caps finished 20-13-12 in those games. As the playoffs began, an odd scheduling quirk led to games two and three against the Penguins being played in Pittsburgh. The Caps dropped the opener at home, 7-0, then lost three of the next four – all by one goal – and the series.

It’s 2000-2001 . . . and thrilling moments with an unsettled mix. Peter Bondra would net 45 goals (22 of them on the power play), Olaf Kolzig would have another strong year at 37-26-8, 2.48, .909. The Caps were 36-20-10-2 when they took the ice against the Ottawa Senators on March 11, two days before the trading deadline. The calendar might have been weighing heavily as the Caps fell behind 5-2 through two periods, Kolzig having been chased to the bench. Corey Hirsch was brought in for what was to be mop-up duty. Then Andrei Nikolishin scored a goal. Then, Trent Whitfield scored one. Then, Sergei Gonchar netted one to tie the game. Finally, with 1:28 left to play, Steve Konowalchuk made the comeback complete with a goal to give the Caps an improbable 6-5 win. At once, all things seemed possible. Two days later, the Caps traded Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 2001 first round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a second round pick in the 2001 draft. The Caps lost five in a row after the trade and would end the year struggling on a 4-7-0-2 run. Waiting for them in the opening playoff round was…yes, Pittsburgh. And the club could not right itself, bowing out in a six-game series that ended, as one might have expected, with a patch of bad ice, a puck that jumped, a turnover, a breakaway, and a goal to end a season where the wheels were falling off for a month.

It’s 2001-2002 . . . and the thunder clap heard ‘round the hockey world on July 11, 2001. That morning, Larry Brooks all but used his New York Post column to tell Penguin general manager Craig Patrick that a Ranger offer for Jaromir Jagr – who the Penguins were shopping as part of a salary purge – was the only one out there, and that he’d better take it and like it. That afternoon, the Caps announced that they’d acquired Jagr for three prospects and future considerations. At no time in the history of the franchise had a player of this level of personal accomplishment worn the sweater. The enthusiasm among fans at the prospect was reflected in a crowd of several hundred showing up at Dulles Airport five days later to welcome Jagr to Washington. Then, the club signed Jagr to a seven-year, $77 million contract extension with an option year tacked on the end. The honeymoon didn’t last. In what would begin to take on the aspect of one of those short-lived celebrity marriages, Jagr had what for him was a disappointing year – 31-48-79 in 69 games. Worse, the Caps would fail to make the playoffs, finishing two points behind Montreal for the eighth and final spot in the east. Ron Wilson, a victim of the oft-whispered claim that he “lost the room” was relieved as coach at the end of the year. It was not much fun on Fun Street.

It’s 2002-2003 . . . and a new coach Bruce Cassidy, along with another big signing. This time, Robert Lang was inked to a $25 million, five-year deal with the aim of centering Jagr. The Caps would return to the playoffs, but there was something . . . well, missing. Jagr had another disappointing year on the scoring rolls, going 36-41-77 in 75 games, but he wasn’t without his moments. Specifically, there were consecutive games in mid-January (against Florida and the Islanders) in which he went 5-6-11, +6. Lang had a decent year (22-47-69), but more was envisioned. The Caps would draw upstart Tampa Bay in the first round, and after winning a pair of three-goal decisions in Tampa, it appeared that a deeper run was in store. But not even Jagr, who had been on the high side of a lot of Capitals’ playoff collapses, could get the Caps over the hump. The Caps would tie game three late in regulation on a Brendan Witt goal, but would see their series lead cut in half as Vincent Lecavalier potted the winner in a 4-3 overtime final. From there, the Caps would lose the last three games of the series, one very reminiscent of the 1995-1996 series against the Penguins, right down to the multi-overtime game, this year’s being the final game on Easter Sunday in Washington, where Martin St. Louis circled out from behind the net on a power play to lift the puck over Olaf Kolzig’s glove in the third overtime (the four-overtime game in 1996 also was decided on a power play).

It’s 2003-2004 . . . and time not for a remodel or a rebuild, but for the club to gut the club right down to the studs and start over. The pieces of the selloff are described here, but at the end, it was a club dressing players such as Matt Yeats in goal, Roman Tvrdon, Garret Stroshein, and Mel Anglestad in the finale against Pittsburgh (they always show up for these events, don’t they?). After 30 years, the Caps had returned to their roots…they were once more an expansion team.

It’s 2004-2005 . . . and a lockout making this the great ice age in NHL history. For the Caps, the year was noteworthy for what took place in June. The Caps won the draft lottery, leapfrogging the Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks for the right to select a young forward from Moscow Dynamo with a game more typical of North America in its ferocity than that normally associated with Europeans. Alexander Ovechkin took the stage at the entry draft upon his announcement as the Caps first selection and looked for all the world like the happiest man in the arena. As time would pass, he’d make a lot of people happy.

It’s 2005-2006 . . . and the introduction of Alexander the Great to the NHL. Presumed that he would be overshadowed this season by the prodigy Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh (the beneficiary of another lottery), Ovechkin opened his career by planting Columbus’ Radoslav Suchy through the glass behind the Columbus net on his first NHL shift. He’d top that by scoring a goal in the second period, then another four minutes later. If he’d had an assist, he could have ended up with an “Ovechkin hat trick” – a goal, an assist, and a glass-shattering hit. He was clearly the star that shone through a cloudy sky. He had almost twice as many points as the next highest total on the club (106 to 57 for Dainius Zubrus), more than twice as many goals (52 to 23 for Zubrus), 20 more assists than the Caps’ runner-up, more than twice as many shots on goal as the runner-up, he led all forwards in ice time, had 21 power play and five game-winning goals, led the team in takeaways, and by a wide margin led the team, not to mention all NHL rookie forwards, in hits. Now, if only the Caps could build around this guy.

It’s 2006-2007 . . . and 70 points not looking like 70 points. In 2005-2006, 70 points was the result of an overachieving, under-talented club. This year, it was a disappointing finish for a club that was coasting at 15-10-7 on December 16th. Injuries, illness, a lack of depth, inadequate experience, and a shallow skill set conspired to leave the Capitals in 26th place in the league. Fans could enjoy the antics of the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – who combined for 84 goals and 165 points. They could enjoy Chris Clark – a captain in the mold of Caps’ captains past – realize another career goal scoring year (30), giving the Caps three 30-goal scorers. Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger would emerge as players who, with more experience, could serve as stoppers on the forward line while chipping in some scoring of their own. Milan Jurcina was plucked from a dead-end in Boston to be one of the big hitters on defense ands with a big slap shot from the point to boot. Shaone Morrisonn continued his development, and Mike Green and Jeff Schultz gave glimpses of the kind of game-to-game contributors they could be on the blue line in years to come. Olaf Kolzig, if not quite a “gray beard,” continued to be the rock in goal that he has been for a decade.

32 seasons, and the lows outnumber the highs. Even the sunniest Caps fan would have to concede that. But over the years, Caps hockey has not been without its moments, its players, and even its characters, leaving us to ponder the question, “what is Caps Hockey?” . . .

It’s Michel Belhumeur and Bill Mikkelson in that legendary first year. Say what you will, but an 0-24-3 record and a -82 deserve attention and, yes, even respect. They were out there every night battling.

It’s Dennis Maruk’s luxuriant fu-manchu moustache.

It’s Ace Bailey dressing for 207 games as a Cap, leaving us before his time on a clear September day in 2001.

It’s Gary Green being named head coach at the age of 26.

It’s Doug Mohns, Bill Clement, Yvon Labre, Guy Charron, Ryan Walter, Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, Steve Konowalchuk, Brendan Witt, Jeff Halpern, and Chris Clark, captains all.

It’s Terry Murray, who played for his brother, Bryan, than succeeded him as coach with the Caps.

It’s the elegance of Bengt Gustafsson.

It’s the grit of Dale Hunter.

It’s the odd character that was Al Iafrate.

It’s the Plumbers Line of Craig Laughlin, Greg Adams, and Gaetan Duchesne.

It is Duchesne leaving us too soon.

It is Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern, and Ulf Dahlen doing a pretty good imitation of the Plumbers Line and the Harlem Globetrotters with their grit and ability to play keep-away with the puck.

It is Kelly Miller.

It’s a puck ringing off a post or fluttering past a clot of bodies to end a game when people are usually fast asleep.

It is the Secretary of Defense.

It’s Bobby “One Punch” Gould on the night of March 20, 1987. What happened? Hey, ask Mario Lemieux…if he remembers.

It’s demons in orange and blue, gold and black.

It’s “…Murphy starts the rush… he hits Hunter…he’s in alone…a shot…and a goal!!!!!”

It’s a young, strapping kid from Kitchener, Ontario, making his mark – sometimes quite literally on opposing forwards – as a young defenseman. And no amount of draft picks could replace what was lost when he departed.

It’s a debate over Dale Hunter versus Joe Sakic. Every Cap fan who would call themselves one knows what the debate is about.

It’s four guys in a limousine outside a Georgetown bar.

It’s the relentless professionalism of Calle Johansson.

It’s 15 consecutive seasons as a “plus” player – eight of them with the Caps – which is pretty darn good, no matter how painful it might have been to watch Joe Reekie skate.

It’s Jeff Halpern, who wasn’t just the token “home grown” Cap, but a fine faceoff man and effective checker in the tradition of Caps past.

It’s Corey Hirsch’s perfect 20 minutes.

It’s Calle Johansson playing 983 games in a Caps sweater, and Shawn Cronin playing one (in 1988-89…look it up).

It’s several hundred fans trekking out to an airport to welcome a player who had bedeviled them for years.

It’s fans glad to have seen that player go 30 months later.

It’s winning the lottery and getting Alex Ovechkin.

It’s losing the lottery and getting Sasha Pokulok (prove ‘em wrong, kid).

It’s Bobby Carpenter . . . then merely “Bob” Carpenter the second time around.

It’s 21 points and 446 goals allowed…records likely to stand as long as NHL hockey is played.

It’s the only skater to be named a first-team NHL all-star in his first two years.

It’s trying to get out of the Capital Centre parking lot.

It’s flying on the team plane to a playoff game in Pittsburgh with a lot of other Caps fans…and watching Jagr stick the knife between our ribs one more time.

It’s Joe Juneau with his arms raised behind the Buffalo goal with the puck tucked safely under Dominik Hasek.


It's Abe, it's Ted.

It’s Godzilla.


It's Alex.

It’s a lot more. But with the good and the bad, there is a shared history here. And with that, there is a shared hope that what the Caps are building will end in names we know etched onto a plate that girds the Stanley Cup. I’m a Caps fan, and proud of it.


29 comments:

Victor said...

Uh...I'm speechless. Totally. That happens to me in the face of Greatness.

cd said...

Seriously, that's a brilliant post.

DCSportsChick said...

That's a great post. How long did it take you to write it?!?

Ari said...

Fantastic post.

Corey Hirsch's perfect 20 minutes. Only a true Caps fan could know the significance of that.

Man, I miss Bengt Gustafsson - will we ever have another player like him?

ADR said...

This is just beyond words brilliant. I laughed, I cried. It brought back so many memories of my 30+ years following the team.

capsfan28 said...

Wow. Awesome, Awesome read.

keppre said...

Good read, reminded me of my good and bad times from the late 80's on. One mistake I found when reading through, the Caps were the 4th seed in the 97-98 playoffs. I remember that because they were the only home team to survive the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Aside from that, lots of memories brought back.

Capscat said...

Outstanding work! A 'must' read for every Caps fan.

Bean said...

That was Brilliant.

I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.

jagzed said...

"simply sensational"

Anonymous said...

I love the hand-made sign at Terry Murry's first game:

"Mom, I have some good news and some bad news..."

Brilliant write up.

Paul Nichols said...

Beautiful stuff. I'll be sending it to my father to read. We had a tradition of going to the games ( including the first ever home playoff game ), and me calling him when playoff games were over - especially when we eliminated the Rangers in the Year of the Druce.

Thanks for putting this together. It's been a wonderful, heart-wrenching 32 years, sprinkled with more than enough moments of joy to keep the love burning bright.

Goat said...

I love you, man.

And thank you. I feel much better now. Heh!

Jayman77 said...

Excellent, fantastic read. This embodies everything that a Caps fan, whatever age they may be, can relate to. I'll be forwarding this to my father as well.

Great work!

Mike said...

Excellent post -- so MANY memories. When Dale scored the breakaway goal against the Flyers, I was there, and it was great, and as loud a building as I have ever been in!

Thanks for sharing your passion.

I'm also a Caps fan, and proud of it.

frets said...

you just made my offseason! fantastic post, thanks.

Heather said...

I <3 the Peerless!

This might be the best blog ever rendered to mankind.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for that brilliant walk down memory lane and for embodying in words what it means to be a Caps fan.

Absaraka said...

That was one of the most beautiful pieces of sports blogging I have ever read. Very well done.

-c said...

Sorrym but i am a "newer" caps fan. I grew up watching them but only achieved rabid status 3 years ago when i moved to DC... can someone explain to me Corey Hirsch's perfect 20 minutes ? i can't seem to google myself an answer...


c a p s caps caps caps.

Stan said...

Great post. Been a Caps fan since day 1. Was at the first ever Caps Game. My best memory was taken my son to his first Caps game and the Caps came from behind from a 5-2 deficit to beat the Islanders. My son ended up playing youth hockey for the Baltimore Stars.

Justin (MegaTroll) said...

Thanks dude. Perfect example of the style of writing I love. I call it "the big literary drop". A slow build through the history, like clicking your way up a fine wooden roller-coaster. And then woosh, you're slamming down the other side, flashing through nastalgia at breakneck speed.

Much appreciated.

CapsCrazy said...

I was just pondering that question the other day, "why am I a caps fan?"

You said it, really you did.

I love this..Thank You.
It gave me a teary eyed smile.

Anonymous said...

Incredible. Great work.

I forget what year it was (2000 maybe?) but Bonzai recorded a hat trick -- including the game winner -- in a comeback victory over the Flyers in a matinee game. I've never seen so many hats on the ice, nor dumbfounded Flyer fans. Priceless.

HD89 said...

Just wanted to say: Amazing.

Haven't read through it all yet, but im saving some parts for later. This was, pretty much, the best blog entry I've ever read.

How long did it take you to write it?

The Peerless said...

c...as for Corey Hirsch's perfect 20 minutes, that was the Ottawa game referenced in the post. He came into the game to start the third period in what looked for all the world like simple mop-up duty in a 5-2 game. 20 minutes of playing time and eight saves on eight shots later, Hirsch had a most improbable win.

kid that sits near Goat said...

GO CAPS!

Anonymous said...

It’s the thunderous ovation that the fans gave Peter Bondra as he lingered on the ice after the game on his returned to MCI after being traded to the Senators.

Bailey said...

Amazing post! Here's to 13 more years of turning those "more downs" to more ups!

Also, I was at Corey Hirsch's Perfect 20 minutes game and it was probably the most exciting game I've ever been to ... I was with my folks and my dad was jokingly saying he could smell the comeback. 4 goals later we were calling him the Swami and drinking in the sweet taste of a win over the Sens.

billvill said...

Peerless,

Very nice piece. You're a good writer.

billvill