At the End, A Loving Farewell To the Caps

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sometimes the end comes too suddenly. That's why, instead of sitting in his front-row seat for the game that would either launch the Washington Capitals into the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs or end their season, Ben Metcalf watched the hockey game yesterday on a TV in his father's hospital room in Vermont.

"On Saturday, he was banging on the glass" at a Capitals playoff game, Ben said. "On Wednesday, he was admitted to the hospital." So a week later, Ben and his brother pulled up chairs last night, held their dad's hand and held their breath.

Like a lot of fans in Washington, Ben Metcalf got into the Caps when Alex Ovechkin joined the team a few years ago. Metcalf, a 27-year-old who works for a political committee and a Web marketing firm, grew up in Vermont cheering for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. His older brother, Alex, used to give him a hard time when he turned on a Caps game: "Since when are we hockey fans?" When Ben bought season tickets for this year, his dad, a flinty New Englander, couldn't believe he had spent so much money on them.

Then they went to a game with him, in Ben's seats right by the ice next to the goal, with the players racing by inches away, or slamming one another into the shuddering panes of glass. Ovechkin has a signature move after he scores: He throws himself against the glass.

Ben bought the season tickets right after sitting there one time; he put his cup down on the rail and within the first minute was doused with his own beer: Sold. Alex, a graduate student at Penn State University, became a hockey fan moments after sitting down, he said.

So did their dad, Steve Metcalf, a school superintendent and retired Navy captain. "I was about two feet away from Alexander Ovechkin as he slams in the glass, gives 'em a big smile," he said from his hospital bed yesterday. He liked the personality of the team, with a new coach and young players -- Ovechkin, David Steckel, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley -- hitting the ice with obvious enthusiasm.

"The whole team is just -- they just look like they're having so much fun," Ben Metcalf said. "Coach Bruce Boudreau is chippy after games. He has a good sarcastic edge, which my father enjoys."

The only time Steve was disappointed was when the family watched from a luxury box. "You don't want to watch a hockey game from a suite," he said. "It's like being anesthetized. You want to be down on the glass, pounding away!"

About halfway through the season, Steve asked his doctor about some abdominal pain. They found a large tumor in his liver. A doctor told them at the end of January that if chemotherapy worked, he could live another year.

"He's only 62," Ben said. "And he's healthy as a horse other than the cancer. And it's -- we all feel sort of cheated. He's not a grandfather. None of us are married. There are big moments ahead he's not going to be around for."

Right away, their father told them they should enjoy the time they had left together, have fun, not grieve.

Ben left his apartment in the District's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, and he and his brother moved back home to Vermont. Instead of e-mailing his dad funny quotes from Boudreau, Ben just yelled them from the other room. They went golfing and sailing with their dad, sister and other family friends in Florida, and kept returning to Washington for games.

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