As a 23 year old Caps fan and DC native, I have never witnessed a major Washington sports team win a championship. The last team that won was the Washington Football Team in 1992, just before I was born in 1993.
Sure, the Nationals and Capitals have had dominant season performances, but for some reason, once they reach the playoffs, it magically disappears. In fact, the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg’s Capitals preview was from articles that were previously written about the team. As we say during Passover, how is this night (season) different from all other nights (seasons)? And why do we keep coming back year after year?
When I was in college, I played for our schools club hockey team. It was there that I made my best friends, who to this day I talk with via group text. We’re extremely tight throughout most of the year, talking about highs, lows, and everything in between. However, there is one glaring exception: my best friend, Nellie Simmons, is a hardcore New York Rangers fan. During games where my boys and hers face off, our friendship is put on pause, and we yell inappropriate-for-this-article things about each other and our respective teams. Yet somehow, when it’s all over, we’re still friends.
(Myself, my friend Kate, and my friend Nellie at a hockey potluck)
Before the Capitals and Rangers play Saturday evening, I sat down with her so she could explain herself. (This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity).
Julia Karron: Why and how did you become a Rangers fan?
Nellie Simmons: When we first moved to New England about ten years ago, I wasn’t really much into hockey, but my dad’s best friend/my uncle Scott, was a HUGE Rangers fan, and so to teach me about hockey, Scott, my dad, and I would watch games together and they would explain the dynamics of the game to me. It was really a family thing, and so of course I became hooked on the Rangers.
JK: Being from Connecticut, wouldn’t that put you in Bruins territory?
NS: Connecticut is a funny state – we tend to split ourselves across the state into Bruins fans vs Rangers fans. For example, my best friend from my hometown is a Bruins fan, but given that we’ve always had more ties to NYC in my family, we obviously had to support the Rangers.
JK: Are you a fan of any of the other NYC sports teams? I know in terms of allegiances I’m a Caps fan, but because my moms from Boston I’m a Redsox fan.
NS: You know, in some ways I feel like a classic New York sports fan- Rangers, and sometimes the Yankees, especially if they’re playing the Redsox- but hockey is such a big part of my life that it’s really the only NY sport I follow religiously. Baseball doesn’t hold my interest as much, and my football allegiances are pretty weird.
JK: Time to talk NYC as a city that’s won stuff. It’s littered with sports championships, and every year one of their teams seems to be in conference finals of some sort. The Rangers haven’t quite been able to pull through since 1994, but they’ve gotten really close. Tell me about your experience with a team that’s gotten past the 2nd round of the playoffs.
NS: The year that is most memorable to me is 2014, when we went head to head with the LA Kings. That was our first season with Alain Vigneault, and just after we had traded Ryan Callahan. There were so many unknowns at the time (as there often are during any playoff) – but with a new coach and having just lost “Captain Cally” I think a lot of us Rangers fans were concerned. And yet, we had set a new franchise record with winning road games and then we just kept rallying during the playoffs. We beat the Flyers in seven, rallied from a 3-1 game deficit for round two vs Pittsburgh, then came back to beat Montreal in six. That was such a nail-biting playoff season because everything was being won by the skin of our teeth. Unfortunately we lost to LA in game five of the final, but I was so proud of how well the Rangers had played. I remember vividly my dad and I staying up late at night, jumping off the couch to yell at the TV during that last game.
JK: What are your feelings on the Washington Capitals? Because I know whenever we play the Rangers, we know the series is going to be a doozy, especially in playoff hockey due to the heartbreak we’ve had when Joel Ward’s goal was waved off.
NS: I agree. Anytime the Rangers face off with the Caps, it’s always a hell of a game. Obviously I don’t particularly LIKE the Caps, but I can admit they’ve got a good team, with some good depth, and a decent mix of really experienced players and players who are still following the lead of the older guys. And I have to admit, Braden Holtby always puts up a good fight and gives Hank (Henrik Lundqvist) a run for his money.
JK: What are your thoughts on the Rangers this season? Hank is back and there’s an infusion of some good, young talent, but you’ve gotta be worried about some of your guys.
NS: A lot of people worry about their team from scoring perspectives or age perspectives. But I also worry about some of our guys just as human beings. Like Zucc (Mats Zuccarello) makes me so nervous. He’s been playing like a rockstar lately, but that concussion and brain contusion he had two years ago was really bad, and I worry what could happen if he took another hard hit. But I think having some of the older guys on the team who have really been around the block five or ten times helps, because they’ve got the experience and the perspective to see the game in all sorts of ways that some of our newer guys, like Jimmy Vesey, may not have yet. So overall, I’m not too worried. I just want the Rangers to be a healthy, strong team – and this year really looks good I think.
JK: Where do you get your Rangers info from? Blueshirt Banter always has solid analysis.
NS: Blueshirt Banter for sure, sometimes Bleacher Report, Blueshirt Bulletin. When it’s high hockey season, WFan with Mike Francesa, because I spend a lot of time on the road for work, so the radio is always a good place to catch up on anything I’ve missed (listening to him is another family tradition).
JK: Well, godspeed to both of us on Saturday. Hopefully we’re still friends afterwards.
NS: It’s always a gamble with us and these teams. But we survived them over four years of college. Pretty sure true friendship is when your teams trade-off winning and losing and you’re still friends at the end of it.
By Julia Karron