There are those moments in life that one remembers vividly from the vantage of being a participant – graduations, weddings, being a member of a team that wins the biggest prize. It is in that moment when one might be as happy as they ever will be, for being part of something wonderful shared. Those with whom you share those experiences are among those to whom you will be closest over all your days.
But in the end, it is a moment. And this brings us to the Washington Capitals. The 2017-2018 season will hold a special place in the hearts of Capitals Nation, but none so special as the place it holds in the hearts of the men who made it possible, from Ted Leonsis to the folks who work in support of the club and facilities for the Caps.
For the players who fought and won on the ice, and even for those who cheered from on high in the press box, it is an especially poignant moment. It can forever be remembered, but it can never be relived. This Capitals team will cease to exist over the next few weeks. Some players will move on to other cities, those who remain will be another year older, it is uncertain whether head coach Barry Trotz will be back.
The scene on the stage on the National Mall of the players linked shoulder to shoulder looking down the expanse of the green at the ocean of red is one of sublime happiness. But lurking is a twinge of sadness. It is likely the last time this team, these champions, will be together intact as Capitals, as reigning champions. It makes this moment in time especially precious. Hockey players are uncommonly, by the standards of professional sports, accessible. But this team set standards over the course of the season, through the playoffs, and especially in the last few days with their non-stop celebration, that will be hard for any team to match. It was particularly appropriate that it culminated on the National Mall, the scene of so many gatherings over the years in celebration, that this bond between players and fans forged over the course of a long and trying season would be cemented.
Every Caps fan worthy of the name was as happy as could be over the last week, from the horn at the end of Game 5 in Las Vegas until the last “Let’s go Caps” chant died away on Tuesday afternoon. It was a memory that players and fans will carry with them wherever they may go.
For the longest suffering Capitals fans, this moment has been 44 years in the making. And oh, the frustrations they have endured along the way. It started with watching the worst team in NHL history (and likely to remain such). They endured playoff agony at the hands of the Penguins (eliminating the Caps nine times), the Islanders (five times), and the Rangers (five times). They lived through those difficult times in 1990 when, just after the most successful season in team history to that point, the team was blown up in the aftermath of a scandal in Georgetown. They watched their team unable to win a single game in their first trip to the Stanley Cup final. They cheered, then jeered the biggest prize ever signed to the club to that point, greeting him at the airport when he arrived, and cheering when he was traded out of town two and a half years later. They endured year after year of playoff disappointment in the Ovechkin years, watching teams thought to be their lesser – certainly ones without the talent this team appeared to have – winning championships.
On the Mall, those years of frustration for players, management, and fans melted away. Speaking only for myself, a fan for 34 of those 44 years, it was worth the wait. I’ve seen two great sports celebrations over the years, ones that I felt being a part of. The first was 39 years ago when my alma mater won an NCAA basketball championship. I remember the aimless wandering around, not knowing what to do or how to behave, all-night partying that went on (thank heavens it happened during what was at the time “spring break”), and the parade as if it was yesterday. I have the same feeling today, the happiness that comes from an experience achieved for the first time, shared with a wider community. The memory of that championship 39 years ago hasn’t faded, and I don’t suppose this one will, either.
But a memory it is. Now, this Capitals team is a part of history. The business of hockey will soon take center stage until the games resume in the fall. Some of the faces on those risers at Tuesday’s celebration will be wearing other jerseys when those games resume. New battles will be faced on the ice. New arguments will be joined in social media.
It makes this moment one to be cherished.