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Capitals Fans Pursue New Friendship, and Wayward Pucks

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By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ninety minutes before game time, they were in position: against the glass beside the ice, next to the players' bench, ready to watch the Washington Capitals warm up. Kim Janelle and Jessica Piansky had their signs, drawn that afternoon over lunch, asking their favorite players to throw them a puck. Please.

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"I yell," Piansky warned, with an angelic smile. "I am a loudmouth."

Like so many others, they have been swept up in the wave of excitement about the team, which has reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

In a city where hockey used to be an afterthought, Janelle and Piansky find themselves among fans who shave their heads and lacquer them red, road-trip to Pittsburgh for tonight's game, build three-foot-tall Stanley Cups out of plastic foam and tinfoil, and dress baby dolls in tiny Pittsburgh jerseys to taunt Penguins star Sidney Crosby as a whiner.

Theirs is a relationship that could only happen around hockey: It's kind of sweet, in an in-your-face kind of way.

Janelle and Piansky met the day they both drove more than an hour through a heavy snowstorm to watch a Caps practice -- and stayed even though it was canceled. "We're such diehards," Janelle said. "We've been best friends ever since."

A few years ago, they knew next to nothing about hockey. Now they trade stats, follow prospects, see nuances. Janelle got hooked when she saw Caps star Alex Ovechkin play for Russia in the Winter Olympics. Even to a non-fan, it was obvious that this was an explosive talent. Piansky keeps her blue eyes locked on Matt Bradley, a little-known forward. "I love the way he skates," she said. "He has this little move, like he's on a skateboard -- he pushes off."

Janelle, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom with four children, and Piansky, 28, who works at a 911 call center, have season tickets and get to the practices two or three times a week. Piansky brings her yellow volunteer firefighter's helmet, now covered with players' signatures. Janelle drives about an hour from Waldorf and Piansky comes in from Loudon County, about an hour in the other direction.

Lately, they have been thinking: This might be the last practice. We have to go. It could be the last time they see each other until the games begin again next fall.

"We're so sad," Janelle said, "that the season's almost over."

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