The Capitals, the Predators, and a Fan Divided

Posted March 24, 2014
Nicklas Backstrom

Photo by a much younger Jon Garcia

During college, I gradually developed an affinity for the Nashville Predators. It was an accident. I went to my first few games to shadow the team photographer, then started catching games on TV if I had time. Eventually I moved out of the corner pit and into the seats, among some of the best fans in the league.

They really sold it for me. Preds fans are loud, passionate, southern, and incredibly friendly. The (then) Sommet Center is no Verizon Center (let’s face it, I’m biased) but it’s definitely comparable. If you ever have a chance to see a game in Nashville, don’t hesitate.

Even after I moved out of Kentucky I still kept tabs on the team, which led to being brought on as a writer for On the Forecheck last year. It was an opportunity I was admittedly surprised I got, but it seemed like a great way to kill a cold Michigan winter and an excuse to watch more even hockey. I had no idea it would turn into something I became so invested in.

What I’m still getting used to is writing about one team while being a die-hard fan of another.

My dad used to take me to games in the early 2000s, but it took a coworker of mine toward the end of high school to really reel me into the sport. I’ve blown off friends to stay in and watch Caps games. Girlfriends have learned half the roster whether they like hockey or not. Many chairs have been scarified due to the frustration of another Game 7 loss. (Meijer needs to sell sturdier end tables, by the way.) Like anyone reading this, I’ve had a borderline unhealthy obsession with this team for years.

So it’s been a struggle to balance the Caps with the Preds this year, especially when they play at the same time. Whenever that happens I’m either flipping between two channels, trying to watch multiple screens, or finally settling on one but feeling guilty about missing the other.

There have been several times this season where I’ve felt a little less connected to the Capitals than I’ve been in the past.  For a while, I thought writing about the Predators took my attention away from the Caps, and not paying attention to every second of every game made me less of a fan. That choosing to cover a non-Washington team swayed my allegiance some how.

That’s not true at all.

In reality, it’s because I worked the night shift at a newspaper until January. There were times I was juggling finishing photo assignments with taking notes on a Predators game, while also trying to cheer on the Caps. If all the schedules lined up, there were two nights a week (if I was lucky) that I could sit and completely enjoy a game with nothing else to worry about. That was a bit of a far cry from religiously following every second of the season like in years past.

I’ve moved just about every six months almost three years. It may sound silly, but this sport (and more specifically this team) has been one of the few constants I’ve had in my life in that time. Cities, apartments, friends, jobs and strangers have all changed, but I could always look forward to the puck dropping no matter where I was.

Hockey has been part of my entire adult life. Until recently, I’ve never had any real responsibilities keeping me from binging on hours of nightly coverage. Now I do, and I have to find a way to work around them. It doesn’t make me any less of a fan, that’s just the way growing up works sometimes. Priorities are made, and things become way more important than beer and sports. It kind of sucks.

I don’t for one second regret making the decision to write about the Predators. The OTF crew and community have given me a voice I didn’t even know I had. (It’s also maxed out my multitasking abilities in a way you wouldn’t believe.) As a team, the Preds were what turned me into a hockey fan, rather than just a Capitals fan, which is why I find it fitting they paved the way for me to write about hockey. But regardless of the soft spot I have for Nashville, there’s nothing that’s ever going to replace that child-like exuberance I get every time a Capitals game is about to start.

Former Cap and former Predator Matt Hendricks. Best of both worlds, while it lasted! (Caps Outsider)

Former Cap and former Predator Matt Hendricks. Best of both worlds, while it lasted! (Caps Outsider)