Coming off a hard loss in Game 1 of round one of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a lot of Capitals fans are still licking their wounds this morning as they prepare themselves for Game 2 tomorrow night. One such fan is Washington Capitals Super Fan, Saku Pienimäki.
Saku hails from Vaasa, a city on the western coast of Finland. NoVa Caps writer Chris Laroche had the pleasure of catching up with the young fan for a brief interview in between playoff games today to get Saku’s take on Capitals fandom in Europe.
Some of you remember Saku’s celebration s selfie video following Kevin Shattenkirk’s overtime game winning goal in the playoffs last year.
After a brief moment of introductions and pleasantries, we began discussing how someone so geographically far away from any NHL teams selects a team to follow. With 31 teams to choose from and a lot of talent on all of them, how is it possible for someone with no outside influence to decide which team to call theirs? Without hesitation, Saku told NoVa Caps that he played a lot of hockey himself when he was younger and enjoyed watching NHL footage on Youtube. He also says that he “immediately loved No. 8 (Alex Ovechkin). How he played and scores. “Because personally, I have always loved to score goals and that’s why (Ovechkin) has always been my idol and role model. It’s thanks to him that I love the Capitals with all my heart. First I started to follow Capitals results and summaries. Later in life, I started to follow every match”, says Saku.
After a brief talk of Ovechkin’s storied career, the conversation then carried over to the differences between following the boys in Red here and across the ocean. NoVa Caps was curious to see how the Capitals were received in Europe, and what kind of difficulties there are to supporting an American team . The obvious, we were told, was the time zone difference. “Games come on here in the middle of the night, and it’s its own challenge to watch the games, but I’m used to it. They think we’re crazy when we take up in the middle of sleeping to watch games. My dream is to one day see the Capitals play in DC because I have not been there before. In my knowledge, there are not many I know who are Capitals fans (in Vaasa) but in all of Finland, I think there are many people who are Capitals fans. I don’t think there’s any one team more popular than another, but I think however, that successful teams are more popular, like Chicago”, Saku told NoVa Caps. Saku is not the only European Caps fan who longs to travel stateside, NoVa Caps sat down with one similar fan during the 2015-16 season to talk to get an English fans’ take on Caps fandom.
NoVa Caps writer Chris Laroche, who conducted the interview, is a Capitals fan living in Rhode Island, just a few hours south of Boston where Bruins fever is running rampant as of late. “It’s a little bit annoying” Saku told Chris, “because many people will (tease) me when the Caps lose, even if they’re not in favor of the other team. Some do not understand how serious of a fan someone can be of a team and that’s why it’s annoying. In general, supporting (the Washington Capitals) is the best, I know. And it is best to watch the Caps’ games (and stay loyal in the face of adversity).
Saku then told NoVa Caps that his favorite memory of the Washington Capitals was watching when “Ovi” scored his 500th goal.
Then we dove a little deeper and began to talk about the current playoff series. The Capitals lost Thursday night in overtime on home ice. There are a lot of people calling last night’s game the beginning of the end. Even while swallowing the hard truth that a loss in Game 1 is certainly less than desirable, Saku remained optimistic about the team’s chances of staying alive in the series and beyond.
“I have read a lot of comments related to the game. Unfortunately, everyone knows our history and fears the worst. This is a best of seven series where the better team will go ahead. We have a great team and in the first game we have not seen the best of the Capitals yet. (The Capitals) need to stay away from the penalty box and (create more scoring chances). Columbus has quite an unexperienced team and I believe that they will not be able to beat us in the playoffs this season. I am confident that this series is ours”, Saku said.
Then, we began talking about the possibilities of a deeper run than we’ve seen in two decades, and if the Caps have what it takes with them this season to break the curse that’s plagued the team for so long. Once again, the unwavering optimism shown through.
“It’s hard to say but I think we have a chance as long as we have players like Ovechkin, [Nicklas] Backstrom, [T.J.] Oshie, [Evgeny] Kuznetsov, [John] Carlson, [Dmitry] Orlov, [Matt] Niskanen, and other players which we have right now. The big question is on the mental side, which is a big deal in playoffs. The year when we have a team like this (if we can stay focused and determined), no one can stop our CupTrain”!
Saku Pienimäki is a fan from Vaasa, Finland but he speaks with the passion and love a fan in the heart of D.C. would have for the Capitals; perhaps even more. In the face of hard challenge, a lot of people always fear the worst and sometimes, they give up the fight before it’s even over. Going into Game 2 tomorrow night, remember Saku Pienimäki. Remember his love for the team. They need us now more than ever to not give up on them. The series is the best of seven, and we still have a lot of hockey left before a winner moves on. Fan morale is crucial to team success. I know it’s been a long two decades since we made it to the finals. But giving up on them now will only hurt their chances of making it any further than they are now. Puck drop is Sunday at 7:30 P.M. at Capital One Arena. It isn’t over yet. Be there, or tune it with the same love for this team as Saku Pienimäki. Do it for the boys.
By: Chris Laroche