Sports has a magical way of bringing people together. Turning on a game or going to a stadium or arena, it’s a unique getaway from one’s problems. Sometimes we get emotionally invested in the team we are rooting for, getting very happy when they win or really upset when they lose. One year ago, like the Capitals, a lot of things had happened to me and I was at my lowest. Rock bottom sort of speak. Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll say that I have struggled for several years battling a disease called depression.
Depression is not something that should be taken lightly. A lot of people are dealing with one thing or another. It not only affects you if you’re going through it, it affects those around you, ESPECIALLY the ones who care about you the most. In the fall of last year there wasn’t one day that went by where I wouldn’t sit there and just wish I did one thing or another differently.
Thankfully there were two things going on that kept me in check: my jobs and of course, Capitals hockey.
Around the time of training camp, looking at the team as they were gearing up for the season, it seemed to me there was something up with them as well. They were coming off another early exit, falling to the Penguins, of all teams, for the second year in a row. Then came the off season and several key components departed whether it was free agency or the expansion draft. When the puck dropped to begin the season, we all forgot about those doldrums and watched Alex Ovechkin tear it up with seven goals(!) in the Capitals’ first two games of the season.
Then reality set in. It was around that time my depression truly started mounting. The Caps had adversity themselves. First, they lost Matt Niskanen for a period of time. Then it was Andre Burakovsky. As the calendar hit to December, the Capitals even lost T.J. Oshie to the infamous injury bug.
As I started to heal, thanks to counseling and working on my faith, the team seemed to turn it around as well. Around Thanksgiving they got hot. Who knew a Black Friday win over the Bolts was a sign of things to come? Or even a win over the Blue Jackets a little over a week later. There were several exciting games that I can pinpoint. An overtime win over the Blues, a clutch goal from Nicklas Backstrom to defeat Columbus, a win over the Maple Leafs in an epic outdoor setting. It was those games, and more, that led the Capitals to their third straight Metropolitan Division title. For me, a lot of people thought I would never turn my life around, just as many more thought the Capitals wouldn’t win the division, let alone make the playoffs.
There were still areas in my life I needed to work on. Sometimes I would think about my past mistakes and it would put a damper on everything I was trying to work on. What is even worse though is when you get reminded of it over and over again. This was the mental battleground that I had to endure throughout the postseason and fittingly enough, so did the Capitals.
The kind of battles the Cap had to endure was something every Hollywood producer could dream of if they were to make a movie about a hockey team. Their first opponent: the Columbus Blue Jackets and their bench boss was a familiar face. John Tortorella had been on the opposition for many Capitals past playoff battles. Some memorable, others not so much. The Capitals dropped both games of the series in overtime at home, both were occasions where the Caps had a two-goal lead.
The Capitals stared adversity in the face and fought back. Lars Eller kept the season alive with one of the most beautiful ugly goals you will ever see. They kept it rolling with three more wins after that, backing up their captain’s words that the team would come back.
Then came a familiar opponent: the Pittsburgh Penguins. No need to explain more than that. I do remember telling myself during this series that this could be a good lesson for me. A lesson of not letting the past dictate my future. Of ignoring it and facing the fear head on. That’s exactly what the Capitals did. There were two moments that stood out to me. Alex Ovechkin, game-winning goal, in Pittsburgh. Then the resilency the team showed when Tom Wilson was suspended for three games. They rallied and won at home then in enemy territory not in full strength due to Backstrom and Burakovsky’s injury won in overtime. It was poetic justice. Sidney Crosby turned the puck over near the neutral zone. Alex Ovechkin got the puck and flung a pass to a wide-open Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Ovechkin’s thoughts mirrored those of an entire fanbase that has been starving for this moment:
“Just f—— please score.”
There was another familiar ghost that didn’t get talked about too much. The Capitals also had a bad history against the Lightning; never defeating them in a playoff series. They went up 2-0 and then dropped their next three games, including two at home, putting them in a plight trailing three games to two.
The Capitals faced the adversity head on and showed tremendous heart. They captured Game 6 at home and Game 7 in Tampa to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. For me, that was the first time a hometown team had a chance to play for a championship.
After dropping Game 1, the Capitals bounced back and came out on top in the next four contests to capture their first ever Stanley Cup. I’ll never forget where I was during Game 5: outside Capital One Arena with my dad around thousands of Capitals fans. It was an incredible moment for the city. No matter what any fan was going through, they now had a great memory that they’ll forever cherish. I know it will be a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Now I’m not saying that my life became perfect after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup but now whenever I have a bad day, I have a full library of moments that I can relive to make things better. I have hope in my future again. The window is never closed. You just have to work hard, stay positive and like John Walton says, “It’s OK to believe.”