The Best NHL is the First Two Weeks of Chaos

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We’re two weeks into the season, which next to the playoff run– could be the best part of the season. The wacky bullshit that goes on in the first month or so of the season is the best. Crazy stats, firewagon scores, improbable heroes– it’s the best time of the year to get overly emotional– rightly or wrongly– about what your team really is. There’s no lack of craziness this year, either.

First, let’s start with Keith Kinkaid, who is the really champions of goaltending right now. He’s 4-0-0 with two shutouts and has the New Jersey Devils at a still undefeated record….through four games. He’s making the most of his chances with the Devils, as he is building off his 26-win season from last year and really showing that Cory Schneider may have heavy competition and could even be expendable when he gets healthy again. While he may not lead the goalie stats for much longer, the story he’s creating for himself is one that the Devils faithful need to build off of last year’s turnaround with Taylor Hall at the front and center.

Staying in the East, the Ottawa Senators are above .500 after their purge this off-season and it’s confusing the hell out of me. Granted, I’m sure that’ll take a plunge with Brady Tkachuk’s injury; but still…this is a team who wasn’t expected to win three games in this month (maybe, I didn’t read previews) much less be at seven points after six games. Craig Anderson has already seen the most shots in the league (tied with Devan Dubnyk) through six games at 199, which probably won’t let up any time soon as the time goes on and teams wear down the already inexperienced defense. However, the return from Erik Karlsson was great, as Chris Tierney leads the team in points and Dylan DeMelo is leading the all-important plus/minus stat. Young guns like Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Maxime LaJoie have grabbed the brass ring for the greater roles on the team, while Craig Anderson is playing great in October, as Craig Anderson is wont to do, as he has 42 wins in October over his career (currently second-best, but that’ll change once he gets through the months). Maybe the Sens can fool us all…..but maybe not.

Out West, Connor McDavid is good. In fact, if he can keep up the pace he has in factoring in every goal the Oilers have this season; he’ll have anywhere from 198 to 247 points this year based on the Oilers’ goal output over the last five years. This could happen, McDavid is that good and is able to make the best plays out there for his team– but it shows that maybe the Oilers need some support for their superstar. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl are pulling their weight, but it could be a very uphill climb for the Oilers if they keep packing things on McDavid’s shoulders. Granted, they have McDavid for seven more years after this one…but do you want to wear him out in year four of his career like this??

The one constant is the Arizona Coyotes. As the sun will set in the West, the Coyotes will have one of the most promising outlooks, but stumble out of the gates. They’ve scored four goals in five games and have been shutout three times this season. That’s not great, boss. Sure, they’re only giving up 2.2 goals a game, but that doesn’t help when you’re putting up 0.6 a game. It doesn’t help that Alex Galchenyuk is sidelined, but they have their goalie for the first month of the season, as Antti Raanta was solid when he came back from injury last year, but he couldn’t dig the Coyotes out of the doldrums at that point. It is a young team, sure– Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will need time to work things out…but man, it’s hard to watch for a team that’s already been beaten down for as long as they have. You’d hope for some good for once.

This is just the scratching of the surface– you got the hot takes of Auston Matthews’ torrid pace, I think Sebastian Aho (and the rest of the Carolina Hurricanes) are getting slept on in the league, and even as a Caps fan– I’m tired of watching them play on NBCSN all the time.

This is just two weeks in. Let’s hope for more chaos as the season round out the first month of action.

Here’s to the 19th Skater

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While reading around this week, I saw something that the wonderful and talented Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald put out regarding this year in NCAA men’s hockey. There’s a new rule in place which allows teams to dress an extra skater for games this season. Rather than the traditional 18 skater set-up, they’ll have one more skater for whatever they want.

Obviously, this will help if someone is a little banged up and may not make it the whole game, but it also provides some interest techniques that some teams will be able to utilize. In thinking of that, you have to wonder how close an eye the NHL will have on this situation. While they usually guinea pig the AHL for ideas to change the game, the NCAA could be the ones to show the NHL the way on roster spots.

Just imagine being able to suit up an older Alex Ovechkin and use him just for power play chances. No wasted energy, not an increased chance of getting hurt– just Ovi out there on his spot, setting up for a one-timer with the extra man. Think how long Yanic Perreault’s career could have been if he was just there to take crucial face-offs and then get off the ice. It would make the tactics a little bit more interesting for coaches because they may not have to choose between two guys when they can put them both in the line-up and not risk much of anything.

Granted, you could use that power for evil and the idea of the goon (not the old WWF gimmick) coming back because he’s not really taking a roster spot from someone and have him just out there to whale on someone. They really serve no purpose for the 19th skater, but it’s an intimidation factor that you know some coaches would use just to send a message– probably something the NHL doesn’t want to have happen.

That all being said, it would be a nice little insurance policy for a player who may be close to coming back from injury, but not all the way ready– this spot would allow them to ease back into the playing shape they may want to be in, while allowing for a full roster in case they’re not 100% ready.

Sure, for colleges it’s a way to get all some of their incoming freshman a chance to play and not be healthy scratches while also not completely destroying the chemistry of the lines already made up; but you can reason to believe that the NHLPA– should this process work out– will pitch this to the league in order to get more of their members suited up on a gameday roster.

It might be a little far-fetched, but with the NHL– it’s just crazy enough to work.

Though It’s Early, Dowd Adds to Caps’ Roster Redemption Stories

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Whatever the Washington Capitals pro scouts make, it’s probably not enough.

Yes, it’s a small sample size of three games, but the Caps have once again been able to pluck someone off a scrap-heap, clean them up, and make them into a potentially lethal role player into their line-up. First, it was Brett Connolly, then it was Devante Smith-Pelly, and now…it very well could be Nic Dowd for the 2018-19 season.

With the loss of Jay Beagle to free agency, the Caps were in need of a role player at center to help with the defensive side of things, as well as a penalty kill and all the other things that people who love intangibles and heart crave. Dowd, who played in both LA and Vancouver last year, has shown that he deserved that last roster spot, which is something that you can bet he’ll still be able to have once Travis Boyd comes back from injury.

The St. Cloud State product, who was picked in the 7th round, has fit into Todd Reirden’s system very well to start off with. Coming onto a team who is coming off a Stanley Cup victory means that the expectation to repeat is quite high, as well as the ability to not fall into a bit of a hangover after winning the franchise’s first title.

“Dowder’s a great guy, I’ve skated with him before,” recalls TJ Oshie after the Caps first game October 3rd, “I think he’s a guy who will appreciate what we did and I think he already feels welcomed. He respects with what we did. It was maybe a little awkward (to watch/take part in the banner raising ceremony), but I think he knows he’s part of this chemistry now.”

After scoring in his first game with the new team, goalie Braden Holtby acknowledged what a big deal it was for everyone saying,”I think that goal was big for him and it was great to see for us. He’s a phenomenal teammate and fits right in the mold of who we want here.”

While he won’t be the flashiest of players for the Caps, he’s going to be a guy who will do the small things that people will love and become the newest of folk-heroes for the local fanbase and people who enjoy a story like Dowd who comes from Huntsville, Alabama and rose through the ranks of the NAHL, USHL, NCAA, AHL, and now looks like he might have a full-time gig in the NHL. While it’s not a story like Connolly, who was a first round pick and didn’t go anywhere with his team; nor is it like Smith-Pelly who was written off by many teams prior to finding his spot– but his scrappy attitude to stay not only in the line-up, but up in the NHL– will endear him to many Caps fans.

That said, much praise should go to Brian MacLellan, Ross Mahoney, and the scouting staff for not only taking a chance on numerous players, but making sure they’re in a position to succeed in the process. They may be giving them barely-above league-minimum contracts, but at the same time– they’re using their money and roster spots very smartly to have a successful team as a while.

On the Topic Of Training Camp and Prospects

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Training Camps are when hope springs eternal for some teams. Other teams it’s just a chance to see how good a team will be two or three or more years down the line. However, the idea that there are people who are actually “fighting” for a spot on the team is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there’s going to be pressure on some guys, but by in large, the depth charts are pretty set.

Not only that, but it’s very odd hockey where it’s much like spring training where there’s split squads and some fans go overboard with the results– both positively and negatively. It often gets annoying and makes me want to speed up to opening night to make the idea of “position battles” go away for another year.

The thing that irks me the most is keeping the kids who have junior eligibility in the camp far longer than they should be. In all honesty, the only time a player with junior eligibility should be at an NHL camp is when it’s the prospects camp early in the summer. The NHL really should look at an “exceptional player” rule to allow some of these junior players the chance to make the team out of camp, but it would also allow the other ones who really don’t have a chance the ability to train and then play for their junior team because their seasons start earlier than the NHL’s.

It just seems a bit silly to have over sixty players in a camp when they’re going to send 15-20 home on their first few days, a majority of them going back to their junior team. I understand that technically those players are the property of the NHL teams, but does it really do them any good to have that short of an experience and miss some time with the team they’re going to spend the majority of the season with?? It’s almost the same as my disdain for keeping players up for nine games when they know they aren’t going to play there for the entirety of the season.

The idea of raising the draft age is a smart one. Even if it’s just a year, it’ll allow the player to mature more in juniors, which would do them a world of good. When you look at the amount of players who are going the NCAA route, it just shows that if you raise the age or not, those players aren’t going to be jumping into The Show right away; which is maybe what teams want with some of the contracts that they give to players being a placeholder for the prospects spot.

Maybe I’m just not into the training camp hype. One player does amazing against junior or AAAA-level talent and then people wonder why he’s a bust during the year when playing against actual pro level talent. Let the kids be kids in the junior area or the NCAA area. They don’t need to be jumped into the league when you not only lack the room for them, but also could destroy their confidence down the rode for being pushed ahead too early.

Summer Reading: Heritage Jerseys, History, and the Forcing of Both

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I think I’m tired of the “Heritage Jersey” scheme that Adidas is going on about. The NHL has gone into the NBA territory by having fancy names for their alternate jerseys. While the idea of nostalgia is a great one and one that is a proven moneymaker; the fact we’ve seen some of these jerseys in the recent past proves that the NHL is all about the retread– as if you haven’t figured that out by who participates in the outdoor games. Already, we’ve seen the St. Louis Blues, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, and the Anaheim Ducks (…kind of) that have put out their “heritage” jerseys. I’m sure we can expect the Capitals, Maple Leafs, and possibly Flames to join this trend.

While it’s nice to have this retro flare– it’s really all fake. If the NHL really cared about the “heritage” aspect of these jerseys; why wouldn’t they want to show off the Colorado Rockies or Kansas City Scouts jerseys that are the actual heritage of the New Jersey Devils instead of their white “Christmas color’ jersey motif.

Therein lies the problem with the NHL and the way they present their history. Sure, it’s the whole “to the victor goes the spoils,” but at the same time– you can’t bury the history of team’s past. Hell, those are the jerseys and logos that it seems that people crave. However, the NHL doesn’t want you to remember the past as it was. They want you to remember the history as they present– which is a raw deal for everyone involved.

Rarely do you hear about the Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Hamilton Tigers, or St. Louis Eagles due to those teams not making any kind of positive impact in their few years in the NHL proper. People get force fed the “original” six forever and day, but that’s not really the history. Hell, they’re more like the surviving six over anything else. But that’s not what the NHL wants to portray, which I can understand. With the exception of the NBA, you don’t see many leagues touting the teams that have fallen off their radar. You might get fans talking about those teams, but rare to see the leagues promote the dead teams that relocated.

You rarely hear about players from the old days either. The lack of publicity that Joe Malone gets from the NHL is sickening, especially when you have baseball still hold up things that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did. Malone was one of the greatest players and the greatest goal-scorer of his generation, but the NHL really doesn’t do much to profile their players before 1950. Newsy Lalonde is really talked about for his name, but his goal-scoring prowess was up there with Malone, but you only get his nickname of Newsy as something to remember him by rather than the 124 NHL goals in 99 games over his career and 288 goals in 207 games if you combine the NHA and NHL totals. But the NHL doesn’t even give them a passing glance unless they have to– which is rarely.

The idea of having a team historian is a thing that seems to be a hot topic amongst fans with some teams putting it to use. Granted, some of them have put in the work and then were unceremoniously shown the door after the fact, but the team got what they wanted. In all honesty, it seems that the need for a historian could be a “flavor of the month” for some teams and the league itself. With the NHL Centennial over, you have to wonder how much they’ll promote Dave Stubbs’ work since the history isn’t something they need at the forefront anymore.

Jen Conway (AKA NHL History Girl) and I discussed this on the FOHS Overtime on Patreon, so if you want to shell out of few duckets to hear it– then by all means. All the money goes back into the Media Faction for shows and stuff like that.

You can bet we’ll see more “heritage” jerseys– many of which we have seen in the past, many of which won’t be the real heritage of the team. It’s this idea of history that’s great in theory– but when you put it into practice and you dig up things that aren’t all rosy; that’s stuff people don’t want to hear or pay attention to– so they turn it and it becomes a waste for many. Here’s hoping that many hockey fans can take the good with the bad, but with how things work in this social media era– it’s unlikely to happen.

Seventeen Years Ago, It Started in a Garage

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In a garage in Lanham, Maryland- Broadcast Monsters Inc. had created their own, totally in-house hockey internet radio show out of the ashes of another hockey show. They had created shows for a year in a market of streaming media which was very untapped and created a format of “archived, on-demand streaming” which predated the podcast format and allowed people to not have to worry about appointment listening.

And on this date (August 8th) in 2001, the Face Off Hockey Show was born. It was supposed to be a hodge-podge debate show in the same vain as Pardon The Interruption, but it soon morphed into four friends getting together to talk about their life….and then occasionally hockey when it warranted.

Sure, I write something like this every year, but it still amazes me that we get another year older for this show that probably shouldn’t have been with everyone of the hosts moving locations a couple times for those years (which you can hear in our Patreon Extra Shows). For 17 years, we’ve been doing an average of a show a week– some weeks we have extra shows, some weeks someone is sick or technology gets the best of us and we don’t have one. Yet, since 2001– a month before the iPod came out– we started a show that’s still going today. Hell, it’s what gave me my most notoriety and allowed me to do what I’ve done since 2001.

This show has been with me for just under half my life. Hell, I haven’t been in a relationship as long as I’ve been on this show. Maybe that speaks more about me than my commitment to the show, but I digress. Even through all the moves– Marc’s on his 39th studio area and I’ve gone through two states and a province– we’ve still done this whole damn thing and made it work for two hours a week.

These past 17 years have been full of memorable moments, full of fun, full of debates, full of stupid shit that probably only makes us pop for ourselves. We’ve been able to get credentialed for NHL Events, NHL Parties, AHL, ECHL, NCAA, WHL, World Juniors– a whole helluva lot. However, it’s been tougher in recent years, as it seems those in the NHL Communications department doesn’t think we’re worthy enough on our own history to be credentialed under Face Off Hockey Show– this showing when I met someone in that department and when I mentioned who I did podcast for….they knew who I was, what the show was, and didn’t seem too pleased with either. But that only drives me more to get you to know our name and, as the kids say– put some respect on it.

It’s been awesome. But there’s still a lot to come from Face Off Hockey Show and the Face Off Hockey Show Media Faction. With the Media Faction, we’ve added the Soderstrom Bubble and will be adding a yet-to-be-named Maryland hockey podcast which will follow the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears, all the club hockey teams, all the Marylanders in pro hockey, some of the high school stuff– and maybe add more stuff to our network; who knows. We’ve had a wrestling podcast just waiting for a while now– the stars just haven’t aligned.

For the people who have listened for a while or if their first show was a week ago– thank you. While we mostly do this show for ourselves because we like to talk to each other about hockey and see what everyone is up to– we also appreciate the friends we’ve made from the people who have listened to our insane podcast. We appreciate you though we may act like total asses about it.

Thanks to everyone who has listened, who might listen, or who have supported us without listening (Thanks Mama Wazz and Big Stan)– we appreciate it more than you know.

Here’s to another 17 years.

Summer Reading: Fanatics, the NHL, and Merchandising Monopolies

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In October of 2016, the NHL had announced that Fanatics would be the exclusive apparel outfitter for the NHL starting in the 2017-18 season and that it was a long-term (16 years) agreement between the two companies. They would pretty much be in charge of everything, aside from the authentic, on-ice gear– which Adidas would be in charge of. After the first year of Fanatics, it’s been something of a roller coaster for them, especially when you look at their first hack at the Stanley Cup champion turnaround gear.

Many Caps fans have been keen to point out the mistakes that were made with their orders from Fanatics following the Caps Stanley Cup win, as well as the timing for their “fast turnaround” for their Conference Championship gear to be sent out. Not only that the integrity of the products have been called into question (check out that whole thread– it’s a riot), as well– which sucks for the amount of money they are charging for it.

It’s almost the old adage of it’s better to get it right than get it first. It’s not just for journalism, but it’s for any facet of life. Benefit of the doubt, though, as it is their first year doing this and Fanatics may not have been prepared for the onslaught of orders they were going to get from the Capitals faithful. But when the selling point of this deal was the “quick turnaround” aspect of Fanatics, this is a major black mark on this 16-year deal.

(Personally– the stuff I’ve gotten hasn’t been off at all that I saw. Fanatics seems to really excel on autographs, plaques, that kind of not-wearable stuff. The shirts are okay and the sizing is somewhat on-point, but nothing to write home about; the hats seem okay, though pricy as hell; and it doesn’t seem like Fanatics likes to do many second-run items on special events– which is something I encountered with a hat I liked, but they told me once they were gone, that’s it. Luckily I did find it elsewhere. Demand does not mean you will get the supply, apparently.)

Fanatics has a monopoly on sporting merchandise, with the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, and NASCAR to compliment their NHL deal. However, their customer service leaves something to be desired and their products are….decent, at best. Design wise, many may enjoy that– but the actual put together pieces aren’t anything to write home about when it comes to quality; especially with their price point being what it is. It pretty much kills any competition and despite the low-grade apparel, fans seem to be pretty much stuck with the limited choices out there now because of this deal.

However, when it comes to teams and players– does the deal make sense?? While it’s not known how things are divvied up, it was exposed how the NASCAR deal works out with Fanatics when it comes to teams and drivers. Of course, there’s some kind of different with the travelling side show of NASCAR, the percentages were quite eye-opening when you look at it– especially when you see the cut the driver’s get. Plus, it allows some lower series drivers to actually create merch for their fans to buy, which they’d NEVER get through NASCAR.com or at the tracks through Fanatics. There’s something to say about the folk-hero driver or player.

NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck revealed last summer that Fanatics takes 75% of the revenue from the merchandise they make in NASCAR. Of course, there’s plenty of overhead and travelling costs– but my god– that’s a lot. Teams get 9% of the revenue, with their drivers each getting a percentage of that in their contracts. The sanctioning body of NASCAR as a whole gets 1%. But, the fans hated the experience of the big tents they set up that Fanatics had to totally revamp their “superstore” because people didn’t know about it. However, it’s well known that NASCAR doesn’t have a marketing department because if they did– they’d know how to do justice to their sport and gauge fans interest…but that’s another story for another post.

Obviously, the NHL is probably much different with the league getting a bigger cut and then cutting the teams into that percentage, but with how much they have to dish out– what’s the overhead for Fanatics in different arenas or do they only take from the NHL exclusive events like outdoor games the playoffs?? How much does the NHLPA get a cut for the shirts and replica jerseys sold with their players names on it and are they getting as screwed over as NASCAR drivers have been??

Or will the NHLPA go on the route some NASCAR drivers have by creating their own website to sell merchandise and thus getting a bigger cut of the profit?? Names like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, and Jimmie Johnson have been selling their wears on Driver Direct Apparel, which seems to give a bigger cut to the drivers that they wouldn’t get from Fanatics.

It’s also very much akin to what independent wrestlers do thanks to Pro Wrestling Tees, which has the profits for each wrestler’s merchandise going right to the wrestler. Don’t know if the NHLPA would do something like that– especially since they probably would have to get over the hurdle of getting the rights to use the NHL club logos on their merch– but that’s for bigger people to figure out legalities.

In the end, it was a rough first year for Fanatics. They’ve got 15 more years to go, but they need to learn from their first year mistakes and hope to not make it a second time.

The State of Wazz Address

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The State is Maryland….always has been, always will be.

In any case, it’s a new NHL season today since contracts for players only go to July 1st, really screwing over the broadcasters who have to cover this event in Canada on their Independence Day– but that’s the NHL for you. However, with a new year– probably time to give some kind of update about what will happen this upcoming season with regards to blogging, podcasting, and the like. New year, new me, right??

BLOGGING

Okay, so I took some kind of break because there’s not much to write about and there’s only so much John Tavares content people can bear. It’s been a fun time with the Capitals playoff run, but it won’t all be about the Caps and Maryland Black Bears– it’ll be a very heavy influence; but as the season goes on, I’ll get back to all the Tepid Takes and other “feature-esque” work that I’ve done in the past. It may be a little slow in the summer months (as it always is), but it’ll pick up from there I hope.

There’s a possibility I’ll do some minor league stories, but to be honest– I fell out of love with minor league hockey. It was something to try and reinvent myself for a bit and it worked for a while. Then things changed and I lost the passion for it. Maybe the bug will come back, but I really don’t think it’d be the same as it was during the FOHS Farm Report/The Sin Bin time. Interests changes, things happens, and you have to move on from something you’ve lost interest in if it’s completely a by-the-numbers role you’re playing.

There’s an off chance that there could be more NASCAR coverage, so if you’re into that– awesome; if not– that’s cool, too, but don’t get annoyed if it does happen. I mean, I do co-host a NASCAR podcast so….

PODCASTING

There’s not going to be major changes in the substance of the podcasts– let that be known. It’s just a matter for us as a whole to be better with the promoting and things like that. Expect Face Off Hockey Show and The Soderstrom Bubble to be more active promoting things overall. If we want to leave any kind of mark where we can’t be denied about our participation in big NHL events, this is the way to do it. We will hope that you help in that process for promoting stuff you like about our Media Faction. Even if it is talking about our Patreon to others to help offset costs and things like that for the show.

That said, there could be a new Untitled Podcast coming your way from the FOHSMF– that just depends on time, effort, and actually doing it. Stay tuned around early September for a decision on that.

In The Draft Show with Wilson and Wazz will continue on as normal– which I know you’re all happy about. Or not. I really don’t know the feeling about my readers and NASCAR.

OTHER LIFE THINGS

Aside from the whole “try to eat better and workout more” and other usually January 1st resolutions….there’s a project I’ve been collecting things for. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, but just keep putting off and doubting myself in terms of what the response would be from it. It’s really just a matter of actually doing it– as it goes with most projects– so I’m going to try and be better with actually making that come to life.

And be a little more present in life and actually thriving in the moment. Yeah, it’s zen BS, but it’s my zen BS.

…and that’s what’s up. It’s the update you didn’t know you wanted and probably still don’t care much for. Such as life and it’s an outlook on what you can expect from me this summer and moving forward.

Caps By The Numbers: The Save Gives Caps a Split in Vegas

For the first time in franchise history– the Washington Capitals won a game in the Stanley Cup Final. In what could be the best save in his career, Braden Holtby stopped Alex Tuch late in the third period to preserve the Capitals 3-2 lead, which ended up being the final as the teams go back to Washington tied up at one game a piece. Caps goals came from Lars Eller, Alex Ovechkin, but the game-winner came from Brooks Orpik– his first goal in 220 games.

The game didn’t come without a price, as Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hit from Brayden McNab in the first, looking like he jammed his wrist and didn’t return. Late in the game, Jay Beagle took a shot off the inside of his foot. He did play the rest of the game, but had a noticeable hobble when he was on the ice. Luckily, the teams have space between games, as they don’t play until Saturday night.

With the 13th win, we have a former Caps #13.

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Since it’s the first time that the Caps have won their 13 games in the playoffs, why not go with the first guy who wore the #13?? That feat didn’t happen until 1997 when it was the man they call Niko, who first donned the superstitious number after coming over from the Hartford Whalers. It’s time for Andrei Nikolishin.

Nikolishin came into the league as an offensive forward, but adjusted his game to the North American style, while also keeping his solid hands, impressive strength of skating, and one of the most balance players in the league, though the numbers never translated that. Coming to the Caps in the middle of the 1996-97 season, Niko was put into a checking role– which is something he happily went into. While he only peaked at 38 points for the Caps in his six years in DC, Nikolishin’s backchecking, forechecking, and ability to give up the body for the play was one of the big reasons why the Caps wanted him in the trade.

Of course, the relationship wasn’t without its drama with contract disputes. Nikolishin sat out most of the 1997-98 season due to trying to get a better contract, which limited him to only 38 games. However, once the playoffs came– Niko was a big reason why the Capitals were able to get into the Stanley Cup Final, putting up 13 assists in 21 games, while also providing the stingy defense that tends to win you championships.

Nikolishin would improve his offensive output after that season, peaking at 13 goals and 25 assists in 2000-01, complimenting that with a 13-goal, 36-point output for the Caps in 2001-02 before leaving the team to test the waters. With two failed attempts in Chicago and Colorado, Nikolishin went to Russia to end out his career.

My Life As a Caps Fan

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Photo via CapsJerseys.com

This story is unique, but not. Many Caps fans have a similar tale– one of hope, heartbreak, despair, and faith. This is just mine.

My first Caps game I remember seeing on TV was on WDCA Channel 20 when the Caps played the New York Rangers in 1987 or 88. I knew the game of hockey because I had saw two wooden souvenir sticks in my bedroom, I believe a gift from my Godfather. They were red with blue lettering “Washington Capitals” with the Caps logo on it. I also had Fisher-Price roller skates with bells on it– so when I saw the game and wanted to imitate that– my mom and dad were reluctant about it. Not because of the game itself, it was mostly because of the ringing.

The first Caps game I attended was in February of 1989 (a story that I’ll hopefully get to tell at the end of the playoffs). I was instantly hooked, not with hockey– but with the Capitals. They were my local(ish) team, even though the Baltimore Skipjacks were a few miles from me– my dad had some connections at the Capital Centre that allowed us to see many games together until they left for the then MCI Center.

Through it all, this is the team I hung my hat on. From the days of never getting out of the Patrick Division until 1990 or the times going up three games to one in a series, only to lose. From the miraculous run in 1998 until the Cup Final to the Jaromir Jagr trade, which always left a bad taste in my mouth. From all the rebuild, which included Matt Yeats as a goalie to now in this era of Caps hockey that’s great and scary all in one. This is a team that always gave me the highest of highs and lowest of lows in sports fandom.

It also provided a community. Because of the Caps, I got into local hockey– first at Benfield Pines and then Piney Orchard– which happened to be the Caps practice facility. Through youth hockey, I have some of my closest friends, who have all come together through the wonders of social media to enjoy this series, as well as relive moments from our own glory days of travel hockey.

For many, the Caps are more than just a team (not to be confused with the 1989-90 team video), but it’s something that bound us together through our formidable years. We won’t be watching the Cup Final from our assistant coach’s sun room (shoutout Coach Gary), but we’re all in-tune with this. Especially since this is not something that’s supposed to happen. The window for this team was closed after they went all-in with Kevin Shattenkirk. But they kept it open enough to have the breeze roll in and keep the hope alive. Keep this whole thing going, as improbable as it has been.

And I won’t kid anyone in saying that this all seems like a fever dream. The Caps have had the odds against them and it seems like it’s all going to come to an end in typical Caps fashion so many times….but it hasn’t. We’ve prepared for the worst, but the best has been happening. It’s atypical in so many ways– especially with who they’re playing in this Cup Final.

Seemingly, all the playoff ghosts have been vanquished– beating the Penguins, winning a Game 7– save for three: Marc-Andre Fleury (22-12-2 regular season, 8-6 postseason vs. Caps), George McPhee (former Caps GM, now Vegas GM), and Lord Stanley (The Cup). If there was a time to flip the script and eliminate them all– it’s now.

For now…time to face the next game and hope that these past 30 years as a fan of this team that many love (despite them seemingly not wanting to love us back) continues to be all worth it. I’m not ready to use the “B” word when it comes to this team. Maybe if they get four more wins, I can admit to myself– it’s okay. It’s all okay.