Capitals fan Greg Christian held a handmade poster outside of Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena last Wednesday depicting the 36 venues in which he had seen his favorite team play. In his other hand, the Baltimore native and D.C. resident gripped a 20-by-30-inch photograph of his late wife, Dona Coultice-Christian, wearing her matching lavender Hockey Fights Cancer sweater. The couple had visited 34 hockey venues together before Dona died of pancreatic cancer on Thanksgiving. Greg made sure she was by his side for the final two stops of their tour.
“I came to the realization that she would’ve wanted me to go, and so I went,” said Christian, who considered postponing trips earlier this month to St. Louis and Toronto, home to the only two active arenas in which he and his wife hadn’t seen the Capitals play. “I thought taking the picture of her was a way to have her along with me. We already had the tickets, so I actually put the poster of her in her seat."
Having visited 48 out of 50 states together by the summer of 2013, Christian and his wife decided they needed a new travel goal. Christian can’t remember which of them suggested seeing a Capitals game in every NHL arena, but that’s what they set out to do over the next several years.
The couple counted a previous trip to see Washington beat the Penguins at Heinz Field in the 2011 Winter Classic toward their quest, but their tour began in earnest with a road trip from D.C. to Detroit to see the Capitals play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 15, 2013. Christian and Coultice-Christian visited six venues during the 2013-14 season and seven the following campaign.
The primary purpose of their travels was always to see the Capitals and check another arena off their list, but they made an effort to visit family and sightsee whenever possible. Nearly a dozen family members joined the couple in Nashville to see Washington play the Predators on Jan. 16, 2015, and Christian said one of his favorite trips was to Chicago’s United Center last February, when his daughters and grandchildren traveled from Lincoln, Neb., to meet them.
“When we went to New York to see the Rangers, we stayed in Manhattan and saw a couple of plays,” said Christian, who attended his first Capitals game while home from Syracuse on Thanksgiving break in 1974. “When we went to Boston, we took the train up and spent three days . . . As many places as we could, we decided we wanted to get to know the character of the city a little bit.”
The pair had visited more than half the arenas in the league when Coultice-Christian was diagnosed with cancer in April 2017. Rather than put their quest on hold, Coultice-Christian retired from her position as an adjunct professor in the communications department at George Washington, and they traveled more. During the 2017-18 season, the couple hit 11 new arenas, including three over a four-day span during the Capitals’ western Canada swing and four in a seven-day span that took them from Winnipeg to Minneapolis to Chicago to Buffalo. Shortly after the latter trip, which earned the couple a shout out from NBC Sports Washington play-by-play man Joe Beninati, the Capitals helped arrange a meeting after practice between Coultice-Christian and her favorite player, Devante Smith-Pelly.
“We really kicked it into overdrive," Christian, 64, said.
Christian and his wife had come to look forward to the NHL’s schedule release every summer. When the Capitals’ 2018-19 slate was announced, they made plans to visit St. Louis and Toronto, their final two destinations. Coultice-Christian was responding well to treatment at the time, but her condition deteriorated rapidly starting in September.
“Pancreatic cancer claimed my linemate yesterday,” Christian wrote on Twitter on Nov. 23. Since then, he said, he’s received an outpouring of support on social media.
Christian, who goes to a handful of home games every year, has kept a scrapbook and updated his poster throughout the tour, which now includes all 31 active NHL arenas, two venues no longer in use (Joe Louis Arena and Nassau Coliseum) and three stadiums (Heinz Field, Nationals Park and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium). Christian said Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, which opened in 2017, is his favorite because of its especially wide concourses, displays celebrating the Red Wings’ history and concessions. Before visiting the Red Wings’ new home last March, he was partial to Madison Square Garden, which underwent a three-year, $1 billion renovation from 2011-13. Christian said Capital One Arena falls “in the middle of the pack.”
Christian’s tour is complete for now, but he’s already looking forward to checking another venue off his list when the Capitals make their first visit to play Seattle’s expansion team during the 2021-22 season. He’s also considering a trip to Hershey, Pa., to see the Capitals’ AHL affiliate for the first time.
“Beyond that," he said, “I don’t have any particular plans.”
Read more on the Capitals: