When anyone asks me what I miss most about my hometown having moved north to Gotham over nine years ago, three things immediately come to mind: the Black Cat; the C&O Canal; and the potential to attend every home Capitals game. It is, however, a small consolation that living here affords me the opportunity (sadly now just twice in a regular season) to hop on a subway and, in mere minutes, arrive at the entrance to the Garden and watch Les Capitals.
Yesterday, pulling over a home red Boyd Gordon gamer, I bounded out into the early evening darkness, consumed with thoughts of Alex Ovechkin's continued dominance at the "World's Most Famous Arena." While gentlemen and ladies in business suits dashed in every direction, obsessed with something else far less compelling, I strode through to the E train platform, just as the magic train to hockey paradise arrived.
Expecting to see a handful of Blueshirted straphangers, perhaps muttering something about Henrik Lundqvist deserving no special reverence unless he, as Mike Richter well before him, delivers another championship to Gotham, I spent my underground ride wholly unmolested. In fact, not a single passenger on the train was wearing Rangers accoutrement. Now, I understand that this is a big town, and that there are a myriad of transportation options to get a hockey fan to the arena. But it was not until I was nearly at the enemy gates that I observed event goers defiling themselves with Rangers jerseys.
As I stood before the gaping maw of the Garden swallowing the hordes of blue-clad patrons climbing the staircase beside the great marquee, waiting for my arena companion (himself a suburban Rangers fan), I made every effort to greet every red rocker in sight. This goodwill led to some mockery by Rangers fans, some of which clearly could not comprehend the genuine brother- and sisterhood that we have as citizens of Caps Nation. 'Tis a pity, that their game experience is so lacking.
Now while this multi-purpose arena has a palpable hockey history (Eddie Giacomin himself was in attendance and a nice tribute to him graced the jumbotron), I had forgotten the most annoying aspect of the experience of watching hockey at MSG: the open concourse. Ridiculous numbers of attendees (I won't call them fans) ambled by while the game progressed, mid-period, at a furious pace below. Cotton candy towers bobbed in front of my view. A two-on-one break was completely obscured by a soda vendor. And, oh yeah, when I think about hockey at the arena, I always crave a lemon ice. Shameful.
Several other attendees, in the lower bowl, rose and remained standing to carry on a conversation while the game proceeded. Apparently no true Ranger fan sits in a section lower than the 300 level, and the "I Am A Ranger" in-game promo revealed as much.
Last season I observed that Caps country was annexing some territory up here along the Northeast Corridor. That trend continued last night, as the arena on 34th Street was peppered (I couldn't resist) with Capitals faithful dressed in red. But I will say one thing about the Ranger fan at MSG: when things begin to turn well for the home team, the noise level organically rises to a level that instills a real fear that the floodgates will open at any moment. I could have perceived the Caps down several goals early, and Semyon Varlamov chased, solely by the force of will of the local supporters. Fortunately, it ended in dramatically different fashion, and the visitors went home happy.
How did the Ranger fan respond when I virtually lept into the air and shouted after Matt Bradley's roof job? With despondency, that's how. The men's room banter did elicit a pointed query: "Who the [Franceschetti] is Gordon?" To which I replied: "Is that a rhetorical question, or do you really want to know?" The intoxicated Ranger fan mind was incapable of fashioning an appropriate response.
During an intermission I shook hands with fellow Caps fans like a politician on the campaign trial, stopping to chat with one of them. My buddy asked if I knew the guy. In a way, yes. I knew all that I needed to know.
After the game, I hi-fived a handful of other Caps fans outside, including one fetching blonde not quite as hot as my wife. To which my buddy replied, jealous of the experience:
"If I was single, I'd be wearing a Caps jersey."
On my way home, waiting for the subway, I stood near a mother and young son, both festooned with Ranger blue. Mom asked her son: "Did you have a nice time?" The boy's response was inaudible, and I couldn't help noticing that he glanced upward at my red jersey with a certain wistfulness.
I remember the feeling, kid. Whether you're part of the red tide on 7th and F or invading the hockey infidels' cathedrals, it sure is fun these days to be a Caps fan.