To call myself a casual hockey fan would have been an insult to casual hockey fans. My hockey experience is a bit limited. In high school, my buddy Scott Krystinak and I took a day off from classes for a Caps high school media day. This was 1988. We drove out the Capital Centre, caught the tail end of practice, and then got to do some interviews.
My highlight was asking Ed Kastelic whether he thought “goon hockey” was a problem for the sport. I’ll pause for you puckheads to stop giggling.
For the more casual fan, Kastelic played in 228 NHL games (including playoffs), during which time he compiled 12 goals, 10 assists, and 751 penalty minutes. Google his name and you’ll find his profile at hockeyfights.com, as well as grainy videos of him pummeling opponents. Thankfully, his response didn’t involve a left hook.
Fast forward a decade (because it took me that long to pay attention to the team again) to the Caps run to the Stanley Cup Finals. I listened to Steve Kolbe’s calls on the radio (when I was in the car or cooking dinner), and I watched a game when nothing else was on. Then I wandered away again.
I was aware of how the Caps were doing, and I’d tune into a game here and there just to see Ovechkin play. If anyone asked, I’d tell ‘em I was a Caps fan, and then hope the conversation didn’t get much past the Great 8 or Olie Kolzig. (Yes, I know he’s not with the team anymore.)
This year, nothing much changed. I paid little attention during the regular season, and only a bit more once the playoffs started. I saw parts of Games 1 and 2, but missed all of Game 3.
But Game 4 hooked me. I watched the scoreless first period while on the elliptical at my health club. Missed the second period for the weight room and hot tub. Then watched the scintillating third period on the health club sofa while waiting for my wife.
When we got home, my wife wanted to watch a movie. I put on the overtime.
“You watch hockey too?” she sighed.
“I do now,” I said.
When Ovechkin broke free for that one-on-one with Lundqvist, I practically jumped out of bed with anticipation. My cry of despair when Lundquist stoned him woke the dog. As did my shout of joy when Chimera slammed home that loose puck and put an end to a great night.
Look, I know the Capitals might lose the series. I know that’s their history. Doesn’t matter. The games are ludicrously fast-paced, physical and action-packed. It’s telling that guys play so hard they need rest after 1-2 minutes of action.
It’s an exciting sport and I’m glad to have a good team to root for. Especially one with the grit to snatch a key win from the jaws of defeat; with a coach who’ll talk smack about the opposing team’s venue (and fans); with a charismatic superstar and a talented cast of compatriots.
So slide over long-time Caps fans. I need a seat on the bandwagon.