Saturday, April 07, 2007

High Hopes, Shattered Dreams and the End of the Line (Part 1)

I'm reeling a bit - my emotions have been all over the map today and its hard to rein them all in and focus them in such a way that other people know what I'm talking about. I feel like I've experienced almost everything there was to experience as a hockey fan in such a short span of time that my brain is struggling to comprehend it all.

First the Caps-related portion of our afternoon. Facing Buffalo, they not only lose but fail to score a single goal in their final game of the season. Not throughly unexpected given the opponent (and given the home team, for that matter) but I'll admit there was a part of me that hoped the Caps would pull out something spectacular as a sort of thank you - something that would resonate much louder than just a jersey or a signed puck.

The game concludes with the fan appreciation presentation, where the players express their thanks to the fans for sticking with them. It's something I always wait around for, because win or lose, playoffs or no playoffs, this is my team. I know why they struggled and I'm willing to show my gratitude for the effort they gave this season, no matter how often it may have fallen short. As the jerseys are presented I applaud each player in turn, from Bryan Muir to Alex Ovechkin and everyone in between.

I'm momentarily taken back at the apparent light mood among the players before I remember that their season has really been over for a while. Not only that, but you can see that these guys genuinely have fun together - and after all, it's just a game. Tomorrow they'll get up and go about their day, some returning to Hershey for the playoffs, others preparing for their trip to Moscow, and many more returning to their summer homes to relax and regroup. The sting of this season is probably overshadowed at this point by relief that it is over and next year can only be better - a sentiment I'm sure many of us fans share as well.

I'm always sad at this time of year. Inevitably the roster in place for the last game of the season will not match the roster for opening day in the fall, so I try and take it all in. The horn sounds announcing the end of the first period, then the end of the second, and suddenly there are only 20 minutes remaining in that season. The last playing of The Hockey Song, the final Mites on Ice game, one more swing around the arena with the Kiss Cam, and that's it. The jerseys are handed out and the speeches made, and the arena empties out for the final time until the fall.

Then there was the happy part of the day, and that was celebrating our up and down season with other Caps' bloggers, fans, guests, family and friends. [Special thanks to the boys at Japers' Rink for pulling this whole thing together in such a short time - great work, guys!]

We drank a toast to the Caps and promised each other that next year would be better. We picked out the free agents we wanted and made our playoff predictions. We chatted about hockey, the Washington Nationals, life in general...then waved goodbye, drained our glasses, and headed out into the chilly April day to resume our lives away from Verizon Center.

(I got a little wordy here, so - To be continued...)


Smitty said...

The one thing that gave me consolation was the fact that the Capitals did not simply fold and allow Buffalo to railroad them. Sure, they were outmatched skill-wise and stonewalled by some amazing goaltending, but they played like they actually wanted it - like it meant something - right up until the final horn sounded, and that gives me a lot of hope.

For all the flak that GMGM takes, what I saw yesterday (or at least realized that I had seen after I got over the anguish) tells me that he really is building a solid core of guys who are young, have all the skill in the world, and love playing together. Don't get me wrong, GMGM is not off the hook. He needs to stock the lines this summer with some seriously talented and experienced players, lest he be standing in the unemployment line come September, and he seems to be aware of it.

I'll stop with my rambling...

Yep, it's over till September, but hey - at least now I know who to root for in the playoffs: whoever is playing Buffalo ;-)


CapsChick said...

It's true - they didn't give up, and in fact played two periods of shutout hockey. Buffalo is a fantastically talented team and to hang in there with them like that shows this team isn't completely outclassed by the big boys.

I agree that what GMGM has done here is pretty amazing, and he doesn't get enough credit for the team he has started to build. The fact that they love playing together is great and makes it fun - the fact that they are young gets overlooked, at least in the sense that all the little mistakes and errors in judgement are products of youth and not signs that they have no talent. I agree that it's quite the opposite.

If Toronto squeaks into the playoffs I may have to just pretend that entire series doesn't exist...then root against Buffalo in the second round after they sweep the Laffs.