Beyond the B(rink): How the Washington Capitals Changed My Life (Essay)

 Anyone that truly knows me or merely recognizes me from across my university campus can tell you that I seem to be the biggest Washington Capitals fan in existence. I’m practically a walking advertisement: wearing two pairs of pants, shirt, scarf, hat, bracelet, and carrying a mascot fluff-ball. But it wasn’t always that way. 

I wish I could tell you I have a cute story about having a lifelong dedication to this incredible hockey team, keeping memories of watching the games with my family, and attending evening games. I wish I could tell you how I’ve grown up knowing this team and following the action. But, I’d be lying. Truth be told, I was first fully introduced to this marvelous sport only about two years ago.

In June of 2015, I was blessed to enjoy an incredible summer living with friends in Baltimore before the start of my junior year at the university. During that summer, my dear friend officially introduced me to hockey. She invited me to watch her and her family play a few games at their local rink, she taught me about the rules of the game and, most importantly, she introduced me to the Washington Capitals.

My junior year in college started out pretty average. I had been in a roommate group of four girls for about a year and we had become pretty close during the latter half of my sophomore year. Sadly, things don’t always work out as planned. The peace that I had felt when I first moved into the room quickly transformed into an atmosphere of tension and toxicity. Our room of four had become a group of six and within the first few months of the semester, slight divisions began to grow between us. As time passed, the growing division brought me a year’s worth of public humiliation, harassment, verbal assault, and bullying from my roommates. I had no sense of safety in my own room; my daily return was at 3:00 AM when I was sure everyone was either asleep or out enjoying a night on the town.

With everything going wrong in my life, I found myself investing more of my time into watching hockey.

With hockey, I’ve had the chance to invest in a passion that gives me a sense of joy, comfort, and safety, even while being alone. With hockey and more so with this Capitals team, their love for one another has directly affected my ability to stay strong amidst my own personal storm. With hockey, I’ve even been able to overcome the obstacle of having serious social anxiety.

For those that know me best, I’m not good in crowds or with talking to a large group of strangers. Even walking through a crowded hallway can trigger my anxiety into finding another way to my destination. However, when I recognize a familiar Capitals jersey, I immediately feel a sense of safety and a sense of confidence. Our shared passion for our boys helps me to greatly overcome that daily obstacle. I’ve gone from avoiding crowds in a hallway, to hugging wonderful enthusiastic strangers of all ages at Caps games, at the mall, on the sidewalk in the middle of Baltimore….. hockey has changed my life.

As the year passed by, my love and passion for this team only increased. My passion for the game of hockey has been born (and raised) simply through watching the Washington Capitals play. Whether they win or lose, the way this team connects together on and off the ice has pretty much captured my soul.

  • The team is the reason I have fallen in love with hockey.
  • This team is the reason I can feel safe and comfortable with myself.
  • This team has allowed me an escape from the harassment at home (university).
  • This team has given me the confidence to overcome social anxiety.
  • This team has changed my life over the course of a few months.

Furthermore, in the midst of everything I had been dealing with during the year, I was struck with tragedy in my family.

My grandfather unexpectedly passed away in November.

He had lost his balance and fell at home on a Wednesday night and after multiple hospital evaluations and an emergency transportation to a different hospital, he was gone by Saturday night. I wasn’t even aware that the fall was as severe as it turned out to be. I remember my mother briefly mentioning on the phone how he had fallen a few days before his passing, but she reassured me everything was okay and he was doing better. The next thing I knew, he was gone forever.

The last time I ever saw my grandfather, I was picking up my sister from my grandparents house in PA to drive her down to a Washington Capitals game.
WSH vs TOR: Backstrom ties the game with 0.8 seconds remaining.
The boys had won the shootout that night.

With my family living in Connecticut, I was left to mourn alone down in the District during final exams prior to the holiday season. It was at this time that the Washington Capitals had become my saving grace. These boys provided me comfort, emotional healing, and strength during one of the most difficult, heart-breaking, stressful times that I have ever experienced.  The Washington Capitals stand as an extraordinary group of skilled, hard-working, talented, dedicated, motivated, humble, passionate, goofy, and loving men combined with having the souls of silly, lovable children. As quirky and theatrical as my own spirit is, this team has made me feel at home.

But it’s not just the Capitals themselves that have inspired me; the incredible Caps’ wives and girlfriends are such a powerful force in the Washington Capitals community. In fact, the type of relationship they have with the people within their own community just makes my social justice, community service, faith-filled heart practically beat out of my chest. These women can often be seen joining their efforts to raise money for numerous kinds of charities, advocacy, service, and genuinely connecting with fans. Initially, I had the opportunity to attend a Don Tito’s charity event hosted by Gina and John Carlson; in addition, I’ve participated in the Fort Dupont Service Project working directly with Taylor Winnik, Brandi Holtby, and Mandy Alzner (to name a few of the guests). I can’t thank them enough for the ways they inspire the community and endlessly support this team.

I would also like to point out that the broadcast hosts, John Walton, Alan May, Craig Laughlin, and Joe Beninati are the best in the League when it comes to Pre-Game Live and play-by-plays. No other announcer can hype me up or give the game’s low-down like these men do. I’ve tried watching other hockey games through different broadcast announcers but, quite frankly, it’s not the same.

So in essence:

Hockey….this team… has changed my entire life. They have given me the chance to join such a loving community of passionate, enthusiastic, supportive, respectful, service-driven people. I’ve met so many genuine, lovely individuals that have truly become lifelong friends. I’ve gained a new family.

So when people question my loyalty to the Capitals as a Connecticut native, I’m so proud to represent the District. Cup or no Cup, I’m forever proud to be a Capitals fan. This team has already given me quite the victory… and for that, words can’t describe my gratitude.

Have faith Caps fans. The Best is Yet to Come.

By Jessie Dierdorff

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#Capitals #RockTheRed

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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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3 Responses to Beyond the B(rink): How the Washington Capitals Changed My Life (Essay)

  1. Anonymous says:

    My condolences to your family about your grandfathervery sad your story is very sweet and awesome,… Love this. ROCK THE RED… ♡

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is amazing… Jon, you should let the team know about this…

  3. Carole Cook says:

    Beautifully expressed, Jessie. You’re just starting your life’s journey. I, at 71, am looking behind me more than in front of me. But we have at least one thing in common: our passion, commitment, and, yes, love of our Capitals. I’ve been with them since Day 1 in 1974, and my allegiance to them has never waned. They are MY team, win or lose and always will be. Unconditional love.

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