Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Ben Carroll is a longtime Capitals fan who has had the privilege of being longtime friends with former members of the team, developing friendships that have lasted to this day. In this piece, he recalls the beginning of those friendships, pain experienced by one of the players he befriended, and the success of the current edition of the Caps and their run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was 1996. The Capitals were playing in Pittsburgh in the playoffs when it happened. Old school icing rules were different. It was a foot race to the puck, not to the goal-line. If the offensive team touched it first play continued, if not, icing was called. [Capitals forward] Pat Peake had done that foot race thousands of times, as had other NHL players. But what happened next would inevitably end Pat’s career before it really began.
I met Pat in downtown Annapolis at McGarvey’s Saloon. He was out with John Slaney and some other Caps players having a few laughs and cold beverages. If I remember correctly, it was still summer or maybe the end of summer and training camp was about to start. In any event, I sat down with a few of them, Pat included, and just talked hockey, girls, life in general. It was a very cool moment having been a fan for years, these guys (probably seven of them) were all great guys. Down to earth, engaging, asking about the area, etc.
From that point on, Pat and I (later to add Keith Jones, Steve Konowalchuk, Jason Allison and Sylvain Cote) became friends. He gave me tickets to games (when his family or then-girlfriend, now wife Carrie, were not in town!) constantly. We played golf, shot pool, shared dinners and drinks as if we were old fraternity brothers. I was even invited to his wedding up in Michigan along with another friend of mine. We had a blast. They dubbed me the Mayor of Annapolis and his wedding video was also called (by Pat not me!!) the Ben Carroll Highlight Film!
It was a fun time in my life getting to learn about some of these guys and how they grew up and came to love the sport they were now getting paid huge dollars to play. There were some other great stories that I’ll keep to myself, but let’s just say I knew the head of security for the team on a first-name basis!!
Then Pat lost an edge on that icing play in Pittsburgh and shattered his ankle crashing into the end boards. Now, he had already suffered through mono, kidney issues, a shoulder injury and broken cartilage to his thyroid (courtesy of a Chris Pronger slash) but it would be the shattered ankle that would never heal right, require over 17 operations that would ultimately cost him his career. An unfair result from a player doing what he has done thousands of times. It’s what some athletes suffer unfortunately. An injury that forces them out of the game. I won’t get into some of the struggles he’s encountered since retiring, but he’s had enough bad luck over the years for an entire zip code.
So it’s with these memories that I was happy to finally see the Capitals defeat Pittsburgh in the playoffs again. Their version of the Evil Empire has been dethroned. They slayed the dragon. The ghost of playoffs past has been busted.
They have since eliminated Tampa and must now face a new franchise with several connections. From the General Manager to a couple former players (most notably Nate Schmidt) to a veteran goalie that has haunted them as well, it sets up for quite the finish. Will the Capitals continue their improbable season and capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history? I hope so. The fans deserve it. The players deserve it. The city and metro area deserves it. As does my friend and some other wonderful former players.
Finish the job, Washington Capitals. Turn the ghosts of the past into the past and bring home Lord Stanley.
BTW- Pat has predicted “Ovi in 6…”!!
By Ben Carroll