In early June 1998, I was 13 years old, and my 14th birthday was right around the corner on the 26th. Around that same time, the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres to get to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history.
“I’d really love to go to a Stanley Cup Finals game,” I told my dad. “Maybe it could be my birthday present?”
I didn’t ask for much as a kid because, when I was growing up, my family didn’t have much. But I had been to Capitals games since I was a toddler, watching Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, and Don Beaupre as I grew into my elementary school years. My grandparents had season tickets to the Capitals, great seats right on the red line in the old Capital Centre (later called US Air Arena), which is now a shopping center in Landover, Maryland.
I started playing hockey when I was eight years old, playing goalie my first year, then switching to defense, and eventually offense. By the time I was 13 and the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Finals, hockey was my life. My mom’s email address contained “hockeymom” and I was (with parental oversight) posting on old Yahoo! hockey-related message boards.
My dad obliged to my request and called TicketMaster to order two tickets to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Caps’ opponent in the finals were the Detroit Red Wings, and they would square off for Games 3 and 4 at the MCI Center, the Capitals’ new home in Washington, DC, as Detroit had the better regular season record.
“Yes, two tickets to Game 3 at the MCI Center,” I heard him say. He gave his credit card number and the representative on the phone confirmed the order. The tickets arrived in the mail a few days later, and I was thrilled.
By the time the day of the game came around, the Capitals were down two games, but I didn’t care. I was going to the Stanley Cup Finals to see the team I loved! My dad and I took the red line of the Metro from Shady Grove to Gallery Place/Chinatown and stopped at one of the Chinese restaurants to eat before the game. After some General Tso’s chicken and lo mein, we walked around the corner and into the stadium. This was it. I was going to the Stanley Cup Finals!
As we walked through the doors, my dad opened his wallet and handed me my ticket, keeping one for himself. We approached the ticket taker and my dad handed his first. The man ripped my dad’s ticket and gave him the stub and then put his hand out for mine.
Gripping each side of the tearline with each of his hands, the man began to tear the ticket but stopped.
“Wait a minute,” he said to my dad, who stopped and turned around. “These are for the wrong game.”
“These are for Home Game 3, which is Game 6 of the series. This is Home Game 1, Game 3 of the series.”
I couldn’t believe it. We had the wrong tickets. I was upset, and angry, and sad. My dad and I took the metro home and watched the rest of the game at our house. The Caps lost Game 3, and three days later they lost Game 4. The Caps never made it to Game 6, and I lost my chance to go to a Stanley Cup Finals game.
That was 20 years ago.
Since then, the Capitals had great teams, but none could ever make it past the second round of the playoffs. Every year I’d join other Caps fans with the same mantra: “This is our year.” Until it wasn’t.
When the Capitals entered the playoffs this year, I wasn’t convinced they would go far. I figured it would be the same thing it always was. Win the first round (maybe), then lose to the Penguins in the second round. When my grandmother died, the Capitals were already down two games to none against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. My grandmother was a huge Capitals fan as well, and I mentioned them in my words at her funeral: “Grandma, I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to see the Caps win a Stanley Cup, and this year doesn’t look great either.”
Until it was. The Capitals won four straight against the Blue Jackets to advance to the second round against archrival Pittsburgh. I went to Games 2 and 5 of the series, both Capitals victories, and lo and behold, the Caps won the series in six games. No way! The Caps made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998. This was incredible!
My wife and I had a partial season ticket plan for the Capitals the last few years and that gave us access to a presale for tickets to the conference finals. (Shout out to our account manager Aaron Freeman for the heads up.) We purchased tickets to Game 5 of the series. We went and had a blast, despite the Capitals loss. Down 3-2 in the series, things weren’t looking bright, until goalie Braden Holtby had the game of his life, securing a shutout and a Capitals victory. A few days later as Abby and I were in Hilton Head, South Carolina, we watched Game 7 from a sports bar with our friends Andrew and Lauren who joined us on the vacation. And there we watched the Capitals score, and score again, and score a third time. Then it was the end of the third period, and they Caps scored an empty net goal. And then the game was over. I couldn’t believe it! Holtby had another shutout and the Capitals won Game 7 of the series. They were going back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years!
I was smiling widely, mostly in disbelief of what had happened.
It had been 20 years since that dreadful early June day at the MCI Center when I was 13 years of age. Now, at 33, it was time to go again, and this year, I’d make sure we had the right tickets. I called Aaron on Thursday and he told me that I should get an email the following Monday, which was Memorial Day, or Tuesday. By the time Tuesday morning came around, I didn’t have an email with purchasing information.
I wrote to Aaron, who told me that the presale tickets for the Stanley Cup Finals would go on sale for partial season ticket holders at 4 p.m. Tuesday. At that time on that day, I sat at my computer and logged into the system. There they were! Home Game 1 and Home Game 2 tickets on sale!
I moved as fast I could but there didn’t seem to be any tickets available for Game 3, the same game I was supposed to go to 20 years ago. I moved on to Game 4 and found tickets in the upper deck, Section 410, for a whopping $376 a piece. It didn’t matter. I had waited 20 years for this. I bought them and received the confirmation email, which I checked numerous times. I had the right tickets, for the right day, at the right time.
Home Game 2, June 4th, 2018 – 8 p.m.
After 20 years of waiting, my dad and I will finally get to go to a Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Finals game.
And yes, I will update this post after next Monday. 🙂