Monday, March 01, 2010

Ovechkin and the Caps in Ontario & thanks to Ryan Miller

There's been enough written about the Olympics, so I'm going to write about seeing Ovie in the other side of Canada.  I recently returned from a trip to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to visit hockey in the country of its birth.  Although the phone booth, the home of the Washington Capitals, is now a loud, proud and red building, seeing hockey in Canada and, particularly in Montreal, provided me with the perspective of seeing hockey in a place where fans are fanatics in a way Washingtonians will never be and team loyalties are passed down from generation to generation.       

    The first place I saw Ovechkin was in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame, a shrine to the game that I'm glad I got to see.  I didn’t expect to see Ovie there so much already, but, after all, he is the current holder of three pieces of hardware that are on display in the Great Hall.  His picture and his grin gapes from behind the hardware that currently bears his name.  The Hart Memorial Trophy for MVP, the Lester B. Pearson Trophy for Most Outstanding Player as voted by the players and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for the most goals scored in a season are the three he owns.

            Ovechkin also makes an appearance in the Hockey Hall of Fame for his world juniors play in 2005 where he was named best forward.  Finally, Ovie’s jersey is shown in a case near the front of the hall, along with Sidney Crosby I’ll grudgingly add, with the greats of hockey – Wayne Gretsky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Ray Bourque and that list goes on.  That surprised me most of all, but it was great to see and testimony to the fact that Alex Ovechkin is destined to live in that hall for a long time.

            Before heading to Montreal, to see Ovie play in Canada, Jeff and I got to experience the opinions of Canadians about Alex Ovechkin.  I met so many Canadians that wished Ovie played for their team.  I sensed their envy that Jeff and I get to watch the majority of his games and to go see his games on a regular basis.  I can’t say I blame them.  Watching Ovechkin is a thrill, a roller coaster ride, and a constant anticipation of the unexpected because you see that from him on most every night.

            In Ottawa, we talked about Ovechkin, too.  On our circuitous route to Scotia Bank arena to see the Senators play the Calgary Flames, we got on a bus going the wrong direction and hailed a taxi in the middle of a highway in a deserted part of town, that, thankfully, picked Jeff & I up along with two Canadians from Newfoundland and got us to the game before the puck dropped.  Our newfound hockey friends, Jack and Dan come down to see a few hockey games every season, when Montreal is having a home stand.  They were going to be at the Montreal-Washington game on Wednesday.

            “He’s the best player in the world,” Dan said.  “And, he’s exciting to watch.” 

            Yes, he is.

            And, Alex Ovechkin has had many memorable nights against the Montreal Canadiens.  On Wednesday, February 29, 2009, Ovie slide around Roman Hamrlik and passed the puck to himself off the wall, caught the puck, got tripped up by Kyle Chipchura, slide across the ice and chipped the puck over Carey Price into the net.  “MVP” chants started raining down again at Verizon Center.  It is no wonder Canadiens fans boo Ovie every time he touches the puck.  As a Caps fan forever, I’ve never experienced that because Caps have never had players worthy of the booing by Habs fans.  In Ovie, they do.  Although surprisingly, or not, I saw quite a few fans with Ovechkin jerseys or t-shirts on.

            It’s finally game night in Montreal.  The mecca of hockey and a city that has 24 Stanley Cup championships to its name is indeed the place to watch Canadian hockey.  Jeff wore his Montreal Canadiens authentic jersey and Washington Capitals hat.  I wore my Olie Kolzig white away Caps authentic jersey, but had a Canadiens hat on my head.  Our intention in going to Canada to watch hockey was to become a Canadian hockey fan not to watch the Capitals.  But, after spending two hours in a virtual waiting room on Montreal’s website on Saturday, September 12, 2009, the tickets against the Caps were the only ones I could get in the timeframe I was able to go on this trip due to having tickets to Caps games here at home.

            This trip came about because of a group of Vancouver Canuck fans Jeff & I met one night while they were cheering on the Caps at a game at the phone booth.  They were on an East Coast vacation and decided to support the local teams in the cities they were visiting.  I wanted to do the same thing.  But, it’s really tough when your team is playing the team you’re visiting.

            So, that explains our mixed outfits.  We wanted to support the home team and, yet, let everyone know our true allegiance lay with the Washington Capitals.  A woman working at Bell Centre looked at me quizzically so I told her, “We’re from Washington.”

            Before we headed up to our seats in the nose bleed section, we stuck our head in at the lower level to look at all the Championship banners.  It’s amazing to see 24 banners, plus the banners of their retired players.  They surround the arena. 

            We headed up to our seats as the game was getting ready to start and it was already loud in the Bell Centre.  And people are chanting in French, of course, which I loved.  It’s another unique aspect of seeing a Canadiens game.

            We sat next to several young fans that liked to talk about the game.    We debated players and talked about the intensity of Habs fans.  They boo their team for committing offsides and they are relentless in booing Carey Price, their current net minder, and a man who no one seems to be able to decide if he’s capable of being their number one.

            The game gets started and the crowd goes nuts as Scott Gomez scores 36 seconds in the first.  I didn’t flinch at the screaming fans around me.  It was early, I knew.  Brooks Laich tied up the game 6:23 in the first.  Jeff & I quietly fist bumped not wanting to make a scene.  Jeff wears Laich’s jersey to Caps game so he’s one of our favorites.

            The second period got ugly for the Caps, but I kept my cool and, trust me, that is as tough for me to do as giving up being a Caps fan.  But, I was having too much fun soaking in a hockey experience watching a storied team with fans that have been in the making for generations.

            What happened in that second period is typical of the Caps, sometimes, but less often this season.  After winning fourteen games in a row, the Caps checked out.  Tom Pyatt scored forty-one seconds into the second period.  The Caps Nicklas Backstrom responded to that by scoring at 1:11 with Ovie and Mike Green assisting.

            Then, Montreal stormed back with three unanswered goals.  Bruce Boudreau for some unknown reason had pulled rookie goaltender Michel Neuvirth in favor of Jose Theodore.  Jeff & I weren’t sure why Boudreau did this considering the score was tied after the end of the first period.

            Neuvirth didn’t have a spectacular first period and Montreal is a tough place for any rookie to play in, but he was hanging in there.  Boudreau also hasn’t made a habit of playing Theodore in Montreal because of his history there.  Theo went from Vezina and Hart trophies during the 2001-2002 season, where he helped his eighth seeded team to an upset victory over the first place Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, to the doghouse two seasons later when he was traded to Colorado. So, as Glen Metropolit (former Capital that always scores on the Caps), Maxim Lapierre and Tomas Plekanic scored their three unanswered goals, the chants “Theeeeeo, theeeeeo, theeeeeo” got louder and louder in Bell Centre.

            Even though I’m a Caps fan, I had to chuckle at the Habs fans.  Jose Theodore earned the nickname “threeormore” from Caps fan during his atrocious first month of play for the team. That nickname was a source of amusement to a Montreal bartender we met.

            Theo became “threeormore” after winning only 4 of his first 11 games with the Caps.  The fans weren’t happy that General Manager George McPhee signed Theoo, but he didn’t have after any other options after Cristobal Huet left.   His rental contract that got the Caps to the playoffs for the first time in the Ovie era expired at the end of the season and Huet left for more money.

            The third period belonged to the Caps starting with Mike Green’s goal sixteen seconds into the third period.  Brooks Laich then completed his first career hat trick by scoring unassisted at 9:02 with Mike Knuble and Ovechkin assisting at 19:41 to tie the game.  19 seconds left in the game and it was tied. The game went to overtime.

            Overtime was uneventful until Tomas Plekanec scored with 8 seconds left.  Bell Centre was in pandemonium and, for the first time, I was annoyed.  Of course, I wanted the Caps to win.  I just can’t help it.  It doesn’t matter though.  I still had a great time and soon got over my temporary snit.

            Ovie had 2 assists that night and played plus-2 hockey, but the most memorable scene for him that night was his monster hit on Hal Gill, a 6’7 and 241 lb giant on the Canadiens blue line. Ovie leveled Gil right into the crease.   Sweet memory.

            Seeing hockey in Canada.  Awesome!

P.S.  Thanks and hats off to Ryan Miller, stellar Team USA net minder and MVP of the Olympic hockey tournament.  You were fun to watch.  Now, lose to the Caps on Wednesday. 

Let's to Caps!


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At 4:20 AM, Anonymous Bestplayerintheworld said...

Following Crosby's heroics at the Olympics, people are now starting to say that Ovechkin needs to win the Stanley Cup to be considered the best player in the world? Do you agree?

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