Friday, January 2, 2015

The 2015 Winter Classic

Coming into this Washington Capitals season, I was optimistic about the team's chances to make some noise, but I didn't really plan on going to the Winter Classic. My family has season tickets, so we were awarded two tickets as part of the season ticket package, and afforded the opportunity to buy up to 4 more (double the number of our season tickets), but to me, it seemed foolish to spend that money. Ticket resale was high, so I figured, why not just resell the tickets and make a little cash?

Well, time passed and time passed, and none of us made the call on what to do with the tickets. My one brother was adamant about going, and the other was interested if not quite so demanding. We had three pairs of tickets available, and the decision on what to do with them went unmade for far too long. Finally about two weeks ago, we finalized our plans: my cousin and I would join my two brothers at the game, and we'd sell the final pair. We ended up getting back a little extra for the pair, though it wasn't the windfall I had originally hoped for. Still, positive is better than negative.

And so, the four of us went to the game.

I remember going to Disney World for the first time, and that being the most "magical" experience I can remember. But there was something even more special about this experience for me.

There's a great camaraderie at any sporting event, but the Winter Classic felt like it reached a whole different level. I felt excited while walking up to Nationals Stadium with hundreds of other fans, enthralled while stepping to the railing in center field and seeing the scene, and a combination of frustrated and pleased while trying to navigate through a sea of thousands of fans in the concourse. The singing of the national anthem was done by an armed forces chorus, punctuated by a flyover by a pair of fighter jets, and that was probably the height of the non-hockey events for me. Just a really cool presentation.

The seats we had were center ice, though they were fairly low, which made it difficult to see all of the action. The big screen in center field provided a good view of the game when things got too muddled, but it was fantastic to see things play out on the ice level when I was able.

And the game was amazing. Eric Fehr's early goal on a breakaway was reminiscent of his similar goal at the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. After Chicago tied the game at 2 in the second period, tensions were high throughout the stadium. Every penalty (and most of them were against the Capitals) created a chance for someone to break through, but the score remained tied through most of the third.

Late in the third, Matt Niskanen got called for a questionable boarding penalty, then a few minutes later, perhaps as a make-up call (which I hate, by the way), Jonathan Toews got called for something of a phantom hooking penalty. On the ensuing penalty, after Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the zone...

...well, you really just have to watch it.

The crowd exploded after the goal, reminding me of playoff goals back when the Caps scored those kinds of goals. I also just love everything about how Ovechkin carried himself throughout the whole day. He was grinning almost every minute, and he pumped up his guys on every play.

The thing that struck me the most was that, for the first time since he got the letter sewn on his jersey, he really looked like a captain. Not a captain in the snarky, dickish way that some guys can be, but a guy who leads by playing his ass off and getting his teammates excited to compete for 60+ minutes. He may never get recognized as one of the great leaders in hockey, and maybe that's correct, but there's no doubt in my mind that Barry Trotz has helped Ovechkin to rediscover himself, and be a better version of himself.

I can't help it. I'm optimistic. This might be a really good year.

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