As I wrote several days ago, I was able to secure tickets to Game 4 (a.k.a. Home Game 2) of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Capitals and the Golden Knights. And as I promised, here is how the night unfolded.
At 6 p.m., I met my dad on F Street, between 6th and 7th Streets, to meet my dad before the game. He wanted to check out the NBCSports pregame show, which was on a stage located outside the main entrance to Capital One Arena. He was standing on the side of the fence protecting the stage. Soon, he saw me, and I waved to him.
“Hey, dad!” I gave him a hug. “This is it!”
“Isn’t this cool?” he asked me. “There’s Jeremy Roenick,” he said as he pointed to the stage.
We watched for a bit, joined in on some cheers with other Capitals fans, and enjoyed the moment. Just the two of us. After about 15 minutes, we walked around the corner, heading north on 6th Street, making a left on H Street and heading toward the row of Chinese restaurants.
As we approached Wok and Roll, my dad stopped. “Parker, this is the same place we came 20 years ago.” It certainly was. The crazy part was that he and I had been there numerous times during the past several years, with my mom, wife, and brother. But for some reason, this time struck him differently.
The restaurant had plenty of empty tables, as the game wasn’t starting for another two hours. Seated in the back by the sushi bar, we looked at our menus. The choices were easy.
“I guess I have to get General Tso’s chicken,” my dad said. I smiled.
I ordered combination lo mein and a Shirley Temple, the signature drink of a 33-year old acting and reminiscing of being 13 again. We talked about the series up to that point and watched the pregame highlights that the restaurant was showing on its two televisions. My dad updated me on his fantasy baseball team, something he always loved to do.
When our food came, we split our dinners and took our time, neither of us in a rush. We just wanted to enjoy the moment.
20 years before this, we had been in the same restaurant, eating the same thing, but we’d never get to see the game. This time would be different. Around 7 p.m., we paid the bill (thanks for dinner, dad) and walked toward the stadium, choosing to enter the arena through the entrance near Clyde’s. If my memory served me correctly, we entered the MCI Center via the F Street entrance in 1998. I wasn’t having any of that bad mojo this night, so we entered on the opposite side.
“Okay, dad, here we go. I hope these tickets work.”
“Of course they’ll work. Nothing to worry about.”
I knew they would work, but I was still nervous something would happen. My phone’s screen wouldn’t display properly or some other random malfunction would cause me to lose the tickets and all this build up would be for naught.
“Dad, I need you to take pictures of us getting through. We need to capture this moment!”
He got his camera ready. I placed the screen of my phone in front of the man scanning tickets. My hand shook slightly as I waited for the green screen on his scanning device. A check mark appeared and his ticket machine began to print the first ticket.
“It’s working!” I yelled to my dad as I turned back toward him.
I swiped my screen to reveal the second QR code. The gentleman scanned it and another ticket printed off. This was it! We were in! They worked. We hugged and started to cheer. This was the moment I’d been waiting for…for 20 years.
In the midst of our celebration, two fans, who entered moments after us, turned to me and pointed.
“Hey, you’re the guy from the Washington Post article today,” he said. I smiled and nodded. “Man I read your story. What a tragedy! I can’t believe that! Is this your dad?”
“Yep, we finally made it!”
“I’m so happy for you,” he said. “Have a great time tonight and make some great memories.”
“That’s exactly right,” I said to him as he turned up the stairs, yelling a “Go Caps!” before taking off. My father and I climbed the stairs as well, heading to the Section 410. When we arrived in our seats, we grabbed our rally towels and our glow sticks and took our seats. We took in the moment. While there weren’t many fans in the seats at this point–the game wasn’t going to start for close to another hour–it was a beautiful sight to see. My first ever Stanley Cup Finals game with my dad, watching the team we had watched for decades.
The clock kept ticking down and I kept looking around the arena at the fans who were starting to fill the seats. Then I looked up and to my right and I noticed a familiar face. It was James Nellis, the setter from my volleyball team which I played on for four years. He was there with his nephew, a present for recently graduating from college.
Then the two seats to our right filled up with a husband and wife drinking Goose IPA beers. “Hey, I recognize you,” the man said to me. “You were in the Post today!”
“Yes that was me, and this is my dad. We finally made it!”
“We’re so happy to hear that. It was such a sad story.” He was right. It was sad. But this was a new chapter. And we were finally here. It took us 20 years, but we made it.
Then I texted my wife, Abby. “Are you here yet?”
I looked over to Section 412, and there she was with her long-time friend, Travis. She had purchased after-market tickets for an large sum of cash. It didn’t matter. This was, and could be, a once in a lifetime experience. I was glad she was there with her friend, as I was enjoying it with my dad. She waved to me and took this photo.
Then, almost suddenly, the lights in the arena shut off, and all the glowsticks started illuminating and flashing.
The crowd started to roar, and so did we. Twirling our towels and our glowsticks and joining in the incredible energy that flowed through the crowd. The players came out. The announcer stated the lineups. The referees blew the whistle.
It was time for the game.
All I can say about the first period is that we were on edge for the first 10 minutes. Watching Vegas’ Neal hit the post on the most open net imaginable gave us hope that could things would come our way. Once the Capitals went on the power play, it didn’t take long for the whole game to change. And the best part for us was that the action was happening right in front of our faces. I was lucky to grab us tickets in the end where the Caps would attack twice, so when Kuznetzov fed Oshie the puck in front of the goal, we could see the play happen before it even took place.
Oshie punched it in. My dad and I jumped out of our seats into the air, arms raised. Screaming. Yelling. Hugging. Jumping. High-fiving. I could tell how happy he was. And he knew how happy I was. We were there, at this game, watching the Caps strike first, right in front of us.
It didn’t take long before it happened again. A few minutes later, I saw my favorite Cap on the ice, Tom Wilson. I always focused on him whenever he was skating. He was a force of nature, a man not to be reckoned with. And the thing was that he was only getting better and more offensive with each game. So when I saw him take the puck from the corner and cycle it to Kuznetzov, I watched Wilson do exactly what he should have done. He headed right to the slot. Kuzy passed it right back to him and Wilson snapped it home for the second goal of the game.
Wilson scoring was a rarity, as was me being in the arena to watch my favorite player score. We exploded with energy and I did what any Tom Wilson-loving fan would do. I took off my Tom Wilson #43 jersey, turned back to the fans behind me, and held it up for the crowd to see. Fans pointed at the jersey. “TOM WILSON!!!!!”
As the first period ticked down, my dad made a quick comment in my right ear. “Wouldn’t it be great if they scored one more before the period ended?” Yeah, of course it would be, I just didn’t want them to let in a goal and lose momentum before the horn blew.
And then it happened. DSP gets a long pass across the ice, kicked it forward, and lifted it into the upper right corner of the net. Again, we erupted with energy. My dad and I hugged each other, as we did with other fans sitting next to us. High-fives abounded. 20 seconds left in the first period and the Caps were up three goals to none. My voice was already hoarse.
In the second period, Carlson put the Caps up another goal. And while they were up four, we were on cloud nine. It was an unbelievable sight. The Capitals, a team that hadn’t won a Stanley Cup Finals game until a few days ago, were now up 4-0 on one of the most powerful, offensive teams in the NHL.
In the third period, we wanted more. More Caps goals, more hitting, and more cheers by the crowd of “we want the cup” and “Flueeerrrryyyyyyy.” My dad and I were still on the edge of our seats, knowing that this could be the last and only finals game we ever went to. And perhaps, in that moment, the thought hit him as well.
“I’m just glad that I can now say I went to a Stanley Cup Finals game, in addition to a World Series game, and college football national championship game,” he said. “This is awesome.
I agreed. It was. “Thanks for a great 34th birthday present, dad. And a great 14th birthday present all over again. Two goals by Vegas made the game closer than I cared, especially now that Vegas could pull their goalie late in the game and have a slight chance of tying the game. I wasn’t having that, and luckily, neither were the Caps.
During the four-on-four, Oshie took out a Golden Knight, creating a seam through the middle. Backstrom passed it over, and again, we could see it before it happened. Kempny had a wide open goal. We were standing before it even went in the net. 5 to 2.
“YAAAHHHHHH!” I screamed as I jumped up and down with my arms in the air. My dad and I hugged each other again. “Pour it on! Keep it going!” My dad was so happy. I could just tell. As much as we enjoyed the goal, it made Vegas angry and they started making some cheap shots on several Capitals players, leading to numerous penalties and a five-on-three power play for the Capitals.
“Good! Let’s get two more before the game is over!” I yelled with a laugh. Connolly put another one in to make it 6-2.
After the game was over, we walked out to the concourse and met up with Abby, the three of us walking out together. It was incredible. The energy so high and my dad and I constantly exchanging “that was so amazing” and “this was so great.”
We joined the party outside and watched the other Capitals fans take the steps of the Portrait Museum. As luck would have it, we ran into my brother, Garrett, who was outside watching on the big screen.
But in the end, that night was about my dad and me finally going to a Stanley Cup Finals game, the game we had been waiting for. It only took us 20 years.