When the NHL announced in 1972 that it was awarding an expansion franchise to Washington, Jay Cohen, a die-hard New York Rangers fan working in the District, insisted that he and his wife, Grace, purchase a pair of season tickets. Grace wasn’t a hockey fan, but she reluctantly went along with the idea, figuring that with three kids, the tickets, at the least, wouldn’t go to waste.
“I grew up in Honolulu, so I didn’t know the difference between a surfboard and a puck,” Cohen, 90, said Sunday. “After the third game, nobody got my ticket. I was hooked.”
The Cohens attended hundreds of games together in the 100 level at Capital Centre beginning with the team’s inaugural season in 1974-75. When the Capitals relocated to Chinatown in 1997, the couple selected seats in the first row of Section 417, overlooking center ice. Jay died in 2011, but Grace kept their season tickets, and she has no intention of giving them up. She was in her usual seat at Saturday’s Game 3 and said the sea of red she encountered on the streets surrounding Capital One Arena after Washington’s 3-1 win was unlike anything she had ever seen.
Cohen will have a much different view for Game 4, thanks to a chance encounter with Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and her self-described pushiness.
Before a game during the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay, Cohen was waiting for her son to head up to their seats when she bumped into Leonsis outside an elevator.
“I must have lost my mind,” Cohen recalled. “I said: ‘You know, Mr. Leonsis, I really think you are the best owner in sports. I’m an original season-ticket holder for 44 years, and I’ve never had the honor or the privilege of being in the owner’s box.’ He said, ‘If we get to the finals, you will be.’ ”
Leonsis gave Cohen his card and told her to call his office, so Cohen did. Two tickets, a parking pass and an invitation to the owner’s suite for Game 4 arrived last week.
“I got a FedEx envelope from Ted’s office, and the label said ‘To Grace Cohen, the best hockey fan ever,’ ” Cohen said. “Isn’t that cute? My children said, ‘Mom, you gotta save that.’ ”
Cohen has amassed quite the collection of Capitals memorabilia, photos and memories over the years. After Jay retired as a transportation planner for the General Services Administration, he regularly attended Capitals practices at the Mount Vernon rink in Alexandria and became such good friends with former coach Bryan Murray that the team asked him to drive the rookie bus for two seasons.
The Cohens got to know Capitals players on a more personal level than most fans. As Grace told former NBC Sports Washington reporter Jill Sorenson in an interview that aired at the end of last season, the couple hosted former Capitals center Michal Pivonka and his wife, Renata, for their first dinner in the United States after they defected from Czechoslovakia in 1986, and once visited former Capitals defenseman Timo Blomqvist in Finland. Grace did the calligraphy for former Capitals defenseman Larry Murphy’s wedding invitations, and the Hall of Famer remains her all-time favorite player.
On Monday, Cohen will do something completely new in her 44 years of Capitals fandom. Her son Richard will pick her up at her home in Alexandria around 5:30 p.m. and drive her to Capital One Arena, where they’ll head to the owner’s box to watch a Stanley Cup finals game.
“The whole thing just blows my mind,” Cohen said. “It’s taken me 90 years to have 15 minutes of fame.”
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