By Adam Vingan
Red-clad fans filled the stands and many others stood alongside the boards to get a closer look at the players skating on the ice. Music blared during warm-ups and the atmosphere was definitely electric. As the start of the game neared, the public address announcer did his best to whip the Washington Capitals fans in attendance into a frenzy.
The preceding description sounds like a regular season game at Verizon Center, but it was actually for a somewhat meaningless scrimmage in the middle of summer. The only thing missing was a light show.
On an unseasonably cool July day in Arlington, Virginia, it made sense that people wanted to spend it outside. Yet, the reason why what seemed like thousands of people were standing outside Kettler Capitals Iceplex Saturday morning was to go stand inside a freezing ice rink. The last day of the Washington Capitals’ Prospect Development Camp was the last chance for most people to see organized hockey for the next six weeks, so they came in droves. At 8 a.m., the line to enter Kettler for the team’s annual equipment sale stretched from one end of the parking deck to the other. By the start of the final scrimmage at 10 a.m., those same fans were packed in tight, which caught the participating prospects off guard.
“When we were walking on the ice for warm-ups, I was just like, ‘Whoa,'” prospect Travis Boyd said. “This is a little summer camp and we got the fans packing in this place, so it was a lot of fun.”
Team Red (Group B) took the best-of-three scrimmage series with Team White (Group A) in a 5-2 victory Saturday that featured six different goal scorers and three fights. If that was not exciting enough, the capacity crowd ate it all up, oohing and aahing at every shot, save, hit and punch. And it was not the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Michal Neuvirth, Brooks Laich or Matt Hendricks (even though he was in the building) that the fans were fawning over. It was over the players that could very well be the future of the franchise.
“The fans here seem great,” goalie prospect Brandon Anderson said. “I’m excited to play here hopefully one day.”
Not only did it catch the eyes of the prospects, but the Caps’ brass as well. Head coach Bruce Boudreau watched intently from up close and seemingly enjoyed the game as much as everyone else, judging by the smile that fans saw from the other side. Coincidentally, Boudreau’s arrival in Washington coincided with the team’s return to rocking the red. He has witnessed the Caps’ resurrection first hand and Saturday’s crowd only confirmed that in his mind.
“The first thing I thought of was, ‘This is totally incredible,'” Boudreau said. “And then the second thing I thought of was anybody that doesn’t think Washington is a hockey town has not been here. I don’t know how many people you can put in here, but they were three deep standing. It made me very proud to be coaching Washington right now.”
With Development Camp over, prospects returning home and players signed and re-signed, the Caps’ front office will finally begin their much-deserved summer vacation. But even though they will leave Washington behind for about a month, the fervent fanbase will continue to support them all year long. It has become customary in these parts.
“This is pretty remarkable,” general manager George McPhee said. “When you’re six to eight people deep in every crevice in the building, it’s pretty neat. Nothing like hockey in July. Especially Caps hockey. It’s pretty cool.”