They say the first step is to admit you have a problem. So here it goes.
Hi, my name is Jim.
And I'm becoming a Washington Capitals fan.
I'm not proud of it. Lord knows, I didn't want this to happen.
I mean, the Flyers are in my blood. They're in my email address. They're in my IM address.
They won their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups the year I was born.
A child-sized Ron Hextall jersey still hangs in my closet.
I cried the day Pelle Lindbergh died. And Gene Hart.
I still haven't forgiven my sister for having a dance recital the night of Game Seven of the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals against the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers.
I wore No. 31 for Lindbergh during my brief stint playing for Major League Roller Hockey's Carolina/Capital Crunch.
I even have a brick with my name on it outside the Wachovia Center in South Philly.
I first moved to the Washington area in 1997, defiantly bringing my Philadelphia allegiances along with me. I've moved away and come back two other times, the most recent return coming back in February.
A Flyers-Capitals game served as the setting for my third first date with my wife (it's a long story). Having been born in Virginia, she decreed at the start of the game that she would root for the Capitals, much to my chagrin.
I married her anyway.
After spending eight of the last 12 years in the DC area, I've seen my share of Capitals games. Of course, when the Flyers came to town, I would don my orange and black and cheer on my boyhood favorites.
I haven't attended a hockey game in Washington in over four years, going back to before the birth of our daughter. I haven't seen a game in Philly in at least six, possibly longer.
However, last year, I did get to follow the Flyers' playoff run—which included that thrilling Game Seven win over the Capitals. My wife and I, sitting in our living room in Tennessee, were both glued to the edge of our seats.
Of course, I sprang out of mine. She sank into hers.
This season, I missed all but one of the Flyers' playoff games, as we were moving into our new home back in the Washington area. Based on the team's results, it didn't sound like I missed very much.
But there I was, Monday night, my wife and I glued to the edge of our seats, watching the Capitals in overtime.
And there I was, once again springing out of my seat—this time to cheer a Capitals overtime winner, sending the series to a decisive Game Seven on Wednesday night.
How did this happen?
Anyone who has followed my blogging over the past year knows what the Phillies' World Series run meant to me, and how I continue to live and die with the Eagles on autumn Sundays.
But hockey was always my sport, the one I could actually play—and maybe that's why I can appreciate this Capitals team.
The last hockey game I did see in person was actually in Toronto on a business trip three years ago, and the Capitals happened to be in town. It was Alex Ovechkin's rookie year.
Ovie came down the left wing, put on the brakes, and snapped a wicked wrist shot top shelf, glove side on Eddie Belfour.
I remember thinking, "Wow, this kid is going to be good."
Hardly the first one to predict that, mind you. But still, it's pretty amazing to think back to that game and see him now leading the playoffs in goals.
How often do you get to say, "I saw a legend (or legend-in-the-making) in his rookie year?"
In my lifetime, the only one I can say I got to see play was Martin Brodeur, and that was later in his career.
Now, there's another goaltender wearing the Capitals sweater that has me thinking the same thing: Simeon Varlamov.
This kid is un-frickin-believable.
I'm obviously partial to goalies. It was my position—one I learned to play and love, even if the only reason I was stuck in goal as a child was because I was the fat kid.
Lindbergh. Hextall. Beezer. Even Brian Boucher.
I respected Brodeur and Patrick Roy, even though they played for the enemy. Greatness is greatness, even if it's wearing the wrong sweater.
But I was never a fan of either.
I see myself becoming a fan of Varlamov.
He's made consecutive point-blank saves that boggle the mind. Add the fact that the kid is a 21-year-old rookie that was playing for the Hershey Bears a few months ago, and you start to realize how special a player Varlamov is.
While Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have been garnering the headlines, it's the play of the kid between the pipes that has allowed the Capitals to force a decisive Game Seven back at Verizon Center.
Varlamov's play reminds me of Hextall's rookie year. Hexy became only the fourth player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Award (playoff MVP) playing on the team that lost in the Cup finals.
The Capitals have to hold serve at home Wednesday night before realistic discussions of that nature can be entertained.
But come faceoff time, I'll be there watching—cheering on this very entertaining hockey team.
It might be a while before I break down and buy a Varlamov jersey—although the new home sweaters do appear to be Phillies red!
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