On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history. Thousands lost their lives, and many families were never able to recover their loved ones. NoVa Caps takes a look back on this delicate time in U.S. history and how it affected the NHL and hockey world.
The Capitals wore a jersey patch in honor of those who lost their lives. One of the many passengers on United Airlines Flight 175 (one of two flights which crashed into the World Trade Center) was Garnet “Ace” Bailey, a former NHL player who spent four seasons as a Capital from 1974-78.
It was a very somber start to the season, and the Caps boasted the likes of Peter Bondra, Jagr, Olaf Kolzig, and Calle Johansson. The head coach at the time was Ron Wilson and Ted Leonsis had only owned the team for two years. The team captain was Adam Oates and the Capitals were coming off a season in which they won the Southeast division and finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 41-27-10-4 record (this was before the shootout was implemented in 2005-06).
Former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau shared in his autobiography, Gabby: Professions of a Hockey Lifer, that he was set to join Bailey and another Los Angeles Kings staff member on Flight 177. (Bailey and the other staff member were scouts) Boudreau was the head coach of the Kings’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs at the time, but he flew the day before, on September 10.
Due to the attacks, all NHL preseason games were postponed, and the Capitals were due to take on the Philadelphia Flyers at the MCI Center/Verizon Center on September 15, the beginning of the preseason. The Capitals, despite strong efforts off-ice to help those in need after the attacks, struggled on-ice, finishing second in the division with a 36-33-11-2 record, but ninth in the Conference, finishing the season 15-17-7-0. It was a big disappointment, due in part to the acquisition of Jagr, who was supposed to help the team win a Stanley Cup. The Capitals missed the playoffs just a year after taking the division. It is important to note that the Southeast division was tremendously awful at that time. If the Caps had finished without ties (36-33-13) in the Metropolitan Division last season, they would’ve finished in sixth place; twelfth in the Comference.
The 2001-02 season started off in the worst possible way, but the strength of Americans pulled the country through arguably, the toughest time in history. While the Capitals did not have a great season following that time, their efforts were worth far more than a Stanley Cup.
**This story is dedicated to all the men, women, and children who lost their lives on all flights and in the WTC and Pentagon.**
By Michael Fleetwood