Capitals Players and Fans are All-In for the Stanley Cup Finals


Fans young and old packed Kettler Capitals Iceplex to watch the Washington Capitals partake in the first Stanley Cup Finals practice in 20 years. Practice initially started at 10:30 but the throng of fans that started filing in around 9-9:30 a.m. As the players were in the dressing room putting on their pads, they could feel the room shaking. 

“We could all hear it from in here as guys started going out… They were making the walls shake. You could hear them when guys were walking out. It was pretty cool,” said T.J. Oshie.

One by one the players came out to thunderous ovations.

Practice on the ice was as normal. There were no changes to the lines from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Devante Smith-Pelly and Brooks Orpik were practicing with the team. Both were banged up in Game 7 but had a few days to heal. It wasn’t about what took place on the ice. It was all about the players on the team and the fanbase who has waited so long for this moment.

“The town is excited. The people get involved. It’s been 20 years… It’s pretty cool. It’s a pretty special moment,” said Alex Ovechkin.

“If you walk on the street, everybody was like ‘okay you got this’, you just feel like everybody is all-in.”

When practice ended, players were sent off by the fans in style. They applauded each player as they walked by as players slapped hands and soaked in this moment.

Tim Robinson, 35 from Sterling, Va, has been a Capitals fan for 30 years. He attended practice as well as the send off and was even on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery the night the Capitals punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

“This is amazing. This is everything we’ve wanted. This is everything we’ve been waiting for, for me at least, 20 years to see the fan base this crazy and to be back in the Stanley Cup Finals is awesome,” Robinson told NoVa Caps.

“It was awesome. I think the players really felt it. They were rocking out. They were ready, high-fiving people and just the smiles on their faces were priceless.”

Brian Fetter, 31, came with his twin sister all the way from Fredericksburg, Va to Arlington to take part in Saturday’s festivities. The siblings love for hockey began in 2008 over a decent amount of beers and two random teams on the TV: the Nashville Predators and the Atlanta Thrashers. They fell in love with the hitting and the physicality of this new sport they discovered.

“We were just going crazy. They were banging, hitting everything and just going nuts. It was more kind of just a joke. We just got into it,” Brian recalled.

After his twin sister attended a Capitals game at Verizon Center, she brought her brother to a game a year later and he became hooked.

“Once I went to Verizon Center, that was it,” said Brian.

While their love for the Capitals was right in the “Rock the Red” era, they too had their share of playoff heartbreak during that decade but the two are far from “bandwagons”. There have been some fans that started rooting for the Caps around this time but either jumped ship or stopped following. They stuck through the tough springs, the early exits, the mid-May meltdowns and they were here to send their team off to Vegas for the Stanley Cup Finals.

“Personally I enjoyed Jay Beagle the most, seeing him for 20 seconds (at the player send off), running down and waving my cowbell and giving him the ‘woo!’,” added Brian.

“They all looked stoked, they look hungry. They’ve been banging all year so it’s nice to see them finally get some puck luck and get on the plane to Vegas.”

The players weren’t the only stars on the day. There was a big star in crowd as well. William Stilwell, 43, aka “Loud Goat” has had season tickets down in section 10.. for the last 17 years. He’s been known to start “Let’s go Caps!” chants that are so loud you could hear him from the top of the arena.

He remembers the run back in 1998 and told NoVa Caps about the welcome home party where fans greeted the team at Piney Orchard after defeating the Sabres in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on a goal by Joe Juneau. He also talked about the team send off back then and compared it to 2018’s.

“The welcome home party was a madhouse. There were about 400-500 people there in the middle of the night to welcome the team back from Buffalo on the team bus when they pulled into the parking lot. It was bedlam,” said Stilwell.

“The send off wasn’t quite as full or at least didn’t have the same fervor to it but everyone was real excited to wish them well and send them off to Detroit. There was around 100 people (at the send off).”

The turnout Saturday was far greater. According to Capitals PR, there was about 6,000 fans that came out to Kettler.

“The crowd was astronomical. I couldn’t believe it. I got here at about 10:00 and both rinks were already full. There was a line out the door for the team store here at Kettler. There were people cramming into every nook and cranny in this entire place and everybody was legit excited,” Stilwell added.

“There wasn’t just people here because there was a thing to do. There were a lot of Caps fans who have been waiting for a moment like this. Some of them for 20 years. Some of them for even longer.”

Washington D.C. has come together and even though the players are on the other side of the country in Las Vegas as they get set to take the ice for Game 1 on Monday night. Capitals fans have showed out all spring long.

“Hopefully we’ve got a bigger party in a little while here. This was beautiful to see,” said Stilwell.

By Michael Marzzacco

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