After T.J. Oshie scored to give the Capitals a two-goal advantage in the third period Wednesday, CBC’s broadcast cut to a feed of the scene outside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, where thousands of fans had gathered to watch Game 4 of the first-round playoff series on a large screen. Front and center, amid a sea of blue-clad, dejected Maple Leafs supporters, a trio in red celebrated, capturing the admiration of Alex Ovechkin and Capitals fans everywhere.
These three Washington Capitals fans at Maple Leaf Square are the bravest people in this city right now pic.twitter.com/1mAFlVZN0G
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 20, 2017
Carter Thornton, 18, was born and raised just outside of Toronto, but he’s been a Capitals fan — with a room full of memorabilia to prove it — for as long as he can remember. He wore an Oshie jersey to Wednesday’s watch party and arrived shortly after 6 p.m. with his friend and fellow Capitals fan Connor Arbuckle, who wore an Ovechkin sweater. Thornton and Arbuckle met up with Suleimon Raji, one of the few non-Leafs fans they’d encountered in Maple Leaf Square during Game 3 two days earlier. Raji, a 24-year-old student at York University, was easy to spot in his Ovechkin T-shirt.
Before Thornton set out for Maple Leaf Square in an Ovechkin jersey on Monday, his father Joe, a die-hard Toronto fan, warned him not to say anything that might rile up the predominantly pro-Leafs crowd. On Wednesday, it was impossible for him to contain his excitement after Oshie’s second goal of the game.
The backlash must’ve been brutal. What were these guys thinking?
— Carter Thornton (@_carterthornton) April 20, 2017
“Everyone was just booing me because I had the Oshie jersey on and Connor had the Ovechkin jersey on, and we were just going crazy,” said Thornton, who turned and held a small Ovechkin jersey he used to wear as a kid over his head as Arbuckle tugged at the front of his sweater. “Everyone was just screaming, like, ‘Screw Oshie! Screw Ovechkin!’ — stuff like that.”
“Honestly, it was just all boos, that’s it,” said Raji, who shouted ‘Woo, it’s over, boys!’ as he turned and raised his arms in triumph following Oshie’s tally. “Just boos. Nothing else. A couple of people were like, ‘Get out of here,’ but that’s about it.”
It’s unclear whether the kind Canadians in the crowd would’ve mustered so much as a curse word had they known Raji is actually a Flyers fan who just happens to despise the Leafs, despite living in Toronto all his life. He said he bought the Ovechkin T-shirt at the SportChek in Maple Leaf Square a couple of weeks ago, when it was clear Philadelphia wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs.
“I’m not a real Caps fan,” he admitted Thursday. “I’m a Flyers fan, but for the playoffs, I needed a team to support to watch playoff hockey, so I said, ‘Hey, let’s jump on the Washington bandwagon,’ because I know a lot about the Capitals, so that’s how I made my decision.”
Raji also said he wouldn’t think of pulling a similar stunt in another city.
“I live in Toronto, so I know how the people are,” he said. “I could not do this in Pittsburgh, Philly or New York. No way. Or Montreal.”
“I would never go to the States and do that,” Thornton agreed.
After Wednesday’s 5-4 win, the Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks named Thornton, Arbuckle and Raji its “first star of the night” and the Capitals saluted the trio on Twitter. Ovechkin posted a short clip of their celebration on his Instagram feed with the caption, “We love our fans, because they are the best!” It’s not Dart Guy-level fame, but it’s pretty cool.
“He’s been my favorite player for years, so it’s pretty crazy that he posted about us,” Thornton said of Ovechkin’s post.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 20, 2017
Thornton and Arbuckle exchanged numbers with Raji after Wednesday’s game and made plans to meet outside Air Canada Centre, wearing Capitals gear, to watch Friday’s Game 5. Joe Thornton, who has watched every game of the series from home, plans to join them, in a Maple Leafs jersey.
“We’ve been sending memes back and forth for the first few games,” Joe said of the trash-talk between him and his son during the series.
Someone has some new material to work with after Wednesday.